The past few months have been worrying times in the Ithaca food scene. With the recent closings of various restaurants such as The Nines and Aladdin’s, and planned future demolitions that put places such as CTB in danger, the appearance of a new restaurant is a salvation for Ithaca foodies. But just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s any good, so I went to check the place out for myself. Hakacha is an Asian fusion restaurant that has recently opened on 311 Third Street, near the DMV and across from Aldi. I won’t lie, for most of us without a car, bike or bus pass, this is a bit of a trek. Thankfully, they do deliver through various services like Ithaca To Go and Grubhub.
When I read ‘fusion’ online, I audibly groaned. When a casual dining restaurant claims to provide fusion cuisine, I’ve come to expect nonsensical combinations of foods from various regions, haphazardly slapped together on a board with little to no regard for actual gastronomical composition. Therefore, most of the time, ‘fusion’ food falls short of any claims to innovation. Nevertheless, my dedication to my fellow foodies is the reason why I decided to visit this place anyways.
The interior décor of Hakacha is incredibly cozy, with string lights that cast a gentle, warm glow on diners as gentle guitar music plays in the background. There are tree branches along the walls, complementing the wooden furniture. My friends and I were seated quickly and as we perused the menu, I ordered a Green Tea Latte. It tasted like it was made with condensed milk so that it was quite sweet but had a pleasant aftertaste. A few of my friends found it a bit too sweet, but I enjoyed it, though I do have a huge sweet tooth so take my word with a grain of salt.
For appetizers, we ordered the Fried Chicken and Toasted Bread with Dried Shredded Pork. The Fried Chicken was nice and crispy but personally I thought it could have used some more salt. The other appetizer was lightly toasted bread with mayo, tonkatsu sauce, shredded pork and a little chili paste which gave it a nice kick that contrasted well with the sweetness of the sauce.
The menu featured a nice mix of dishes found at a traditional Asian restaurant as well as more ‘innovative’ fusion dishes. Dishes such as Mushroom Soy Sauce Pasta and Vegetarian Ramen take classic American dishes and put an Asian spin on them. There were six of us at the table, so I was able to get a nice sample of various entrees.
One of the more traditional dishes was the Katsu Don, a bowl of rice topped with a fried pork cutlet, eggs, caramelized onions and green onion. Though a little sweeter than most Katsu Don, the dish was fine and generously proportioned. The Mushroom Soy Sauce Pasta had nice little morsels of caramelized mushrooms, slight soy sauce notes and buttery spaghetti cooked to perfection. The Vegetarian Ramen featured kale noodles and sliced mushrooms floating in a rich earthy broth that I enjoyed.
Two of the more ‘fusion-esque’ pasta dishes on the menu were the Squid Ink with Salmon Pasta and the Spicy Seafood Squid Ink Pasta. The noodles in these dishes are made with squid ink giving it a gorgeous, shiny black hue. Taste-wise, the squid ink’s effect is very subtle, giving the pasta a slight briny flavor which makes it perfect for pairing with seafood. The salmon was slightly over-seasoned when eaten by itself but in combination with the creamy pasta, balanced perfectly. The spicy seafood pasta was, true to its name, spicy, and the scallops in the dish were grilled and seasoned nicely.
The last dish I sampled was Green Curry with Fried Breaded Chicken Pasta. This was the dish I was most apprehensive to try. Green curry? With pasta? Would this really work? To my great surprise, it totally did. When the food hit my tongue I instantly recognized the traditional green curry taste, but as I chewed the difference in texture hit me since the dish uses pasta noodles instead of the rice that I’ve come to expect. This little twist makes this dish incredibly fun and interesting to eat. The staff at Hakacha have done a great job of marrying the flavors of the green curry with the texture of the noodles in this dish.
For dessert, we tried a crème brulee and a Black Tea Cheesecake with strawberry sauce and raspberries. The crème brulee was smooth, sweet and had a silky finish. The cheesecake was more interesting, with hints of black tea within the creaminess of the cheesecake. The tartness of the glaze was a nice contrast, but I did wish it was served more chilled.
All in all, Hakacha is a place worth checking out. While I usually scoff at casual ‘fusion’ restaurants, these dishes were fun and fascinating to taste. Instead of the usual “I hope this works” attitude that lots of fusion restaurants seem to have as they slap together two wildly different dishes, Hakacha has done a good job of ensuring their dishes carefully balance two different ends of the culinary spectrum. With generous proportions (I got two meals out of my Salmon Squid Ink Pasta) and a cozy environment, this would be a great place for a date night or casual night out with friends. Definitely worth a trip in my book.
Serves: Asian/Asian Fusion
Vibe: a cozy, casual, sit-down restaurant