At around 10:30pm at an Israeli restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, metal shades come down over the windows, the lights dim, and the DJ starts playing songs that receive immediate screams of approval. Within seconds, people are dancing on chairs and waving white napkins in the air like they’re enthusiastically surrendering to a conquering army. It’s a good time - except perhaps for those who didn’t realize they’d have to pay a premium for this experience. But if you’re willing to look past overpriced food and drinks, and you want dinner to be the night out instead of just the start of it, go to HaSalon.
HaSalon has two seatings per night on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and you should completely disregard the earlier reservation blocks. Anyone here before 8pm will pay the same high food and drink prices, but the occasional dance move or extra-loud laugh will be met with nothing more than nervous smiles and classical music on the speakers. The groups who arrive for the second seating are still here to eat, but they’re also here to party. The fact that you know exactly how and when the party will kick off may sound lame to someone who handshake-hugs club promoters, but dancing on mismatched furniture without needing to rush through dinner or wait behind a velvet rope is actually just a civilized way to have a somewhat uncivilized night out.
Even during the later seating, when the server’s descriptions are drowned out by half the restaurant singing along to ABBA or Ariana Grande, HaSalon’s menu will still draw a fair share of attention. The multi-colored, comic sans font and dishes called things like “Journey Into The Inner Thoughts Of A Grouper Head” priced at $69 make it seem like it’s been put together by an elementary school class with a month of Shel Silverstein under its belt.
But while the dishes have ridiculous names and big price tags, the food here, which is from the chef behind Miznon, is better than what you’ll find at any other New York restaurant with a conga line. The house bread is thin, doughy focaccia baked with cheese and tomato on top, and you should have some on your table throughout the night because it’s both delicious and free. The rest of the menu changes nightly and ranges from $19 avocado toast to $180 kosher prime rib, but the best dishes in terms of value and quality are the shareable entrees in the $30-$50 range. There’s a sweet, chewy bagel the size of a vinyl record filled with king crab, and pasta carbonara with enough uni to make Aquaman blush.
We wouldn’t pay $109 for a “Wild Fish from the Blue Abyss” in a standard cafe, but if you can afford it, you won’t be disappointed here. As opposed to other party spots like Puglia and Sammy’s, the food at HaSalon doesn’t function merely as hangover prevention. And the high-end ingredients and elaborate presentations tend to attract people celebrating the first time they hire a baby-sitter, rather than the first time they drink using their own IDs. As you and a friend attempt to reenact Lady And The Tramp with the 12-foot-long pici noodle, the high prices will feel less like a cover charge, and more like a civility tax on an otherwise uncivilized night out.
Besides tap water and the opportunity to sing “I Will Always Love You” with 100 strangers, this bread is just about the only thing you get for free at HaSalon, and you should take advantage of it. The soft focaccia topped with a roasted tomato comes with a very good creme fraiche dip, and you should get a couple extra orders of this instead of paying $30 for another appetizer.
Unless you plan on organizing a group jump rope session in the middle of the restaurant, there’s really no point to this being a single, very long noodle. But you should still order it because the firm, buttery pasta topped with melted cheese is delicious and shareable.
This sweet corn polenta tastes like perfectly in-season corn that’s been pureed and topped with tomato sauce and parmesan, but we won’t recommend paying $32 for about five bites of porridge.
This frisbee-sized bagel is something that a wealthy giant would eat at Sunday brunch. We prefer when they fill the soft, sweet bagel with blue crab rather than shrimp, but you should order it either way.
This is one of the least expensive dishes on the menu, and yet it feels like one of the biggest rip-offs. $29 gets you one sheet of flavorless pasta, and a few spoonfuls of what’s basically underseasoned chicken broth.
Instead of egg yolks, this pasta carbonara uses a huge amount of uni. It’s creamy and briny, and it’s the best dish here.
When you see the server bringing this dish to your table, you might temporarily think that you’re getting a lot of food for the $57 price tag. But upon closer examination, you’ll see that it’s just a big rock topped with a few forgettable lamb chops and filets.
If this grilled sepia actually is the biggest squid steak ever created, then anyone looking to break a Guinness World Record should go after this one. It’s a pretty big portion, but not humongous - and it doesn’t have a ton going on besides char and citrus. Spend $59 elsewhere.
If you’re ordering hummus because you think it’ll be a light alternative to all the red meat on the menu, then this isn’t for you. But assuming you’re OK with the creamy hummus and fluffy pita being topped with lots of lamb meat and lamb ragu, then this should be on your table.