Some restaurants get better as they get older. It's too early to tell how well the new Uptown restaurant Hoshun will mature, but one thing seems certain right now: This restaurant gets better as it gets later. What is just acceptable " or even less so " around 8 p.m. can look like a godsend after midnight. I wanted to love Hoshun. I wanted it to be the ambitious, imaginative pan-Asian restaurant implied by its design and the promise of its menu descriptions. Occasionally, it shows that it can live up to that billing at any hour. More often, however, gratifying experiences here were based largely on the fact that the kitchen stays open until 2 a.m. nightly, and that your competing local food options narrow sharply in the wee hours.
The restaurant itself is massive and intriguing. Contemporary, dark and dully reflective, it looks somewhat like a pagoda reinterpreted by the set designers for Blade Runner. The sprawling ground floor space is broken into a series of rooms by partial walls topped with decorative glass. Industrial-sized plumbing drains and air vents hang from the ceiling, which also holds an array of small spotlights aimed at each roomy, padded booth. The tabletops are made of dark, rough tile and the whole place has a shadowy, subterranean feel.
The best entrée I've had here was the pork ribs, which had moist meat encased in a very light, fried coating with a peppery, salty seasoning mix. The ribs arrive stacked on the plate in a square pattern like Lincoln Logs, accompanied by soft slices of thin Chinese eggplant. I also liked the 'pumpkin seed duck," a thick breast with a crispy skin on one side and a crust of toasted pumpkin seeds somehow adhered to the other, though the plum sauce was too sweet.
I liked the pot stickers, which are shaped like fat cigars and filled with a ground pork and shrimp mixture enhanced by plenty of ginger. The Thai beef salad was generously flavorful, with spicy red chili peppers and garlic spiking the cool lettuce, cucumbers, cilantro and basil beneath the meat. The won ton soup is reliably soothing with very tender pork dumplings crowding a deliciously rich chicken broth. Almond chicken was like candied chicken. It was coated in a brittle crust of sliced almonds, shellacked into place with a thick, very sweet honey and lemon glaze. It was tasty for the first few bites but eventually, like too much of candied anything, it maxed out my tolerance for sweetness and had me fearing for the integrity of my teeth.
From there, the Far East offerings go south. Pad Thai was lifeless, as though cooked long in advance. General Tso's chicken was precisely as sticky, sweet and starchy as is normally found at any number of Chinese take-out restaurants. 'Hong Kong-style soft-shell crabs" offered a pair of dry crabs in stale-tasting batter thinly dressed with a translucent sauce bulked up with a scattering of black beans.
Entrée prices are moderate, with most below $17. Some of the dinner entrees appear as specials at lunch, when the restaurant adds on soup and fried rice. At prices between $8 and $10, the plates of large, fried 'tom tom shrimp" with a mild tomato-based sauce and chunks of 'goo lou pork" with another sweet, sugary sauce seemed like decent lunchtime bargains.
Elaborate sushi offerings make up a significant portion of the menu, but these too have their own set of problems. Beware of any mention of lobster, advertised conspicuously as marquee ingredients in the mango lobster tartar and a sushi bar special called the Spicy Girl roll. I'll give Hoshun the benefit of the doubt: maybe it makes a puree of fresh lobster tail and claw meat, drains away any lobster flavor, and then molds this raw material into curly bits the exact size and shape of middling crawfish tails. Otherwise, it's just crawfish stuck together with spicy mayonnaise. It certainly is priced as lobster though " $13 for the 'tartar," $14 for the roll " even if it tastes more like Mamou than Maine.
The Playboy roll suffers from its own related theatrics. Order one and the waiter returns with a large roll and a small blow torch, which is used tableside to sear a topping of mango and shrimp draped over the thick body of spicy tuna bits, tempura shrimp and asparagus. Our waiter burnt mine, however, and the topping ended up tasting more like fuel than mango or shrimp. I had better luck with the simple, raw tuna and salmon doused with a garlic and soy marinade, which gives the fresh fish a strongly pungent flavor.
Service on visits during the last few months ranged wildly from sweet and helpful to dismissive and clumsy.
I wish Hoshun would use more interesting seasonings, refine its sauces down from their gooey standards and devote its kitchen to producing either a few more authentic Chinese dishes or else some more imaginative but precise creations of its own. In the meantime, if I'm back again at 1 a.m., I'll order won ton soup, a plate of dumplings and the evening's last pint of beer.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Hoshun serves pan-Asian dishes late into the evening.