When it comes time for my mother’s annual birthday dinner, we usually decide on Japanese because my family are raw fish addicts. After a bit of Yelping, I found Hatsuhana, located in midtown East. I was able to get same day reservations on a Saturday night at 8pm. Surprisingly, everyone started arriving around 9pm, which I always thought was rather late. Most couples sat at the bar but they had several larger tables for groups.

We decided to order a couple of appetizers off their daily specials menu. First was their Tofu Salad, which had mixed greens, seaweed and tofu. They serve their ginger dressing on the side so it is definitely a friendly dish for those who like to go light on their dressing. The tofu was very soft and mixed very well with the ginger dressing.

Then we sampled their Braised Pork Belly, which I thought was a bit on the small side. It was also not as good as I expected it to be. I’ve had excellent pork belly at places like Sakagura and Bozu so I was expecting something amazing like the other two. I was sort of disappointed. Hatsuhana’s pork belly wasn’t bad, per say, but it didn’t stand out for me.

We also had their Grilled Duck, which was a bit on the salty side. My sister loved it so maybe it was just me. I thought it was a bit salty and a little overcooked. Again, it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t pop out to me. I think Hatsuhana is a place that excels in sushi and sashimi but not cooked foods. Their cooked appetizers weren’t bad, but they weren’t anything special. Nothing stood out to the point where I have developed an urge to try it again.

What did wow me, however, was their sushi and sashimi. We ordered two sushi entrees to share and it was definitely more than enough. The fish was very fresh and the rice was very well seasoned. We started off with their most famous dish – The Box of Dreams ($40). This really was a marvel to the eyes – it was so pretty! The Box of Dreams is a lacquer box of 9 sections. Each section features a tiny bowl of sushi rice topped with raw or cooked fish. There were 9 very different tasting bowls but my favorite was probably the salmon, tuna, and red snapper. All the fish was very fresh but those three definitely stood out to me the most.

We also shared their Sushi Hatsuhana entrée ($37.50), which features 10 pieces of sushi and 1 roll of your choice. They give you a tiny list to fill out with the 10 pieces that you want and we decided to go with a variety. There was salmon, tuna, eel, salmon caviar, uni, and octopus. We decided to go with the spicy tuna roll, which was done very differently than your normal spicy tuna roll. Instead of mashing up the tuna and mixing in spicy mayo, they simply line the rice with some spicy mayo and two strips of tuna. I found this way of preparation very interesting because it is so uniquely Japanese, who don’t even have spicy rolls.

We were all completely stuffed by the time we finished our entrees but we decided to share one dessert – to balance out the savory that we had just devoured. We went with their Matcha Shiratama, which features small pieces of gnocchi-like rice pastries served with green tea ice cream and topped with red bean sauce ($6.50). This dish is skimpy on the rice pastries (we only had four) but very liberal with the ice cream and the red bean sauce. Together, the green tea ice cream and the red bean sauce provided a very distinct flavor. The red bean was super sweet while the green tea ice cream had a slight bitter taste from the matcha. Very complimentary!

The service was attentive and our teacups were always filled. Our dishes also came in a very timely fashion. Again, I would not come to Hatsuhana for their appetizers. Instead, skip it and order some extra a la carte sushi or sashimi pieces. Their sushi is so fresh and so beautifully prepared that it is well worth the price tag. This isn’t your standard sushi. This is the good stuff.

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