Friday, December 14, 2007



Raise your Sake cup and toast Haru, a new Japanese restaurant located below the shops of the Prudential Center.

Haru is part of a chain operated by Benihana, Inc. There are seven locations in New York City, one in Philadelphia and one in Boston. In Boston, Haru occupies the former site of Dick's Last Resort and it has been open for only about five weeks. There is a parking garage next to the restaurant and it is a short walk to the MBTA station.

I was invited to check out Haru and I was very much interested in visiting this new place. I love Japanese food and Sake and I am always up for checking out new restaurants. So this past Wednesday evening I dined at Haru. How did it rate?

I will preface my review by noting that as Haru is relatively new, it is still in that period where they are likely working out a few kinks. I will take that into consideration when assessing the restaurant. The same consideration I provide for all new restaurants.

As I entered the restaurant, the first thing that really stood out at me was the lounge area, which is to the right of the entry way. The long bar in the lounge is topped by onyx and is lit from below, presenting an enticing look. The lounge area has plenty of extra room for people who will be standing in the area. The rest of the restaurant also has a very hip and modern decor, but with subtle Asian influences. There is a long sushi bar and a fairly large dining area. The lighting is muted, giving an air of intimacy. Haru presents a very appealing ambience. It certainly does not feel like a chain.

The dining room looks out onto Huntington Avenue and I can see this as being a great people watching spot in the summer. There is one special table, at the back wall, that seats around eight people and is a bit set apart from the others. A good place for a special occasion and a bit more privacy. Though the other tables generally are spaced well, there is a bit of a problem for couples. They seem to break up four-tops for couples but leave only a minimal space between the tables. That closeness may annoy some people.

Haru has a full bar which includes numerous Sakes and specialty drinks. The specialty drinks include such items as Sake cocktails, Mojitos, and Champagne cocktails. These drinks cost $9-$10 which seems reasonable, especially for Boston where cocktails can sometimes cost $10-20. The cocktails come in stemless glasses, the cup portion sitting on a small, thick circular base instead. These glasses would be less prone to being knocked over than stemmed cocktail glasses. They carry a couple Japanese beers as well, Kirin and Sapporo, both on draft.

The Saketini, a combination of Vodka, Sake and Plum wine, with cucumber peels in it, was visually interesting and a popular drink at our table. It was not overly sweet and had a good, smooth flavor. The Komodo Dragon had vanilla vodka, coconut rum, pineapple juice and blue Curacao. It had a bit of sweetness and a nice coconut flavor. There was a Green Tea Margarita that sounded interesting though I did not taste it. Curiously, almost all of the Champagne cocktails are actually made with Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine.

For Sake, they stock about eight Sakes by the glass or bamboo pitcher, as well as another eleven available by the bottle. Their chilled Sakes included Nigoris, Junmais, Ginjos, and Daiginjos. A glass costs $11 or under. Bottles vary in price, ranging to over $100 for the Daiginjos. These are typical prices for quality Sake. I especially enjoyed glasses of the Kira and Kaori Sakes. They were smooth, flavorful and pleasing to the palate. They also carry Onikoroshi, the "demon-slayer", which I have had before. It is a very smooth and mellow Daiginjo.

Haru provides both lunch and dinner. For lunch, they have special Bento boxes and lunch plates, ranging from $12-$17. I will have to check out lunch sometime.

The dinner menu has Sushi, Sashimi, Maki rolls, Special rolls, Appetizers, Soup, Salad, and Entrees. Most of the menu is standard Japanese fare though they have a few unique appetizers and sushi rolls such as the Lobster Mango Ceviche and the Kiss of Fire Roll. Prices are generally reasonable for a Japanese restaurant. Average price for an appetizer is about $10. Average price for an entree (non-Sushi) is about $20. Sushi prices are higher than average though comparable to most other high-end Japanese places in Boston. I'll talk more about the Sushi prices later.

We began the evening with an assortment of Special Rolls. Presentation was excellent. The rolls were quite colorful and visually interesting. There was the Dice-K Roll, consisting of gold leaf, mango, avocado and spicy red and white tuna. The Boston unCommon roll also had gold leaf, as well as crunchy spicy salmon, tuna, avocado, mango and black tobiko. I believe there was also a Phoenix Roll, spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, cucumber and kaiware. We had one other roll though I am not sure which one. I enjoyed the varied taste mixes of these inventive rolls. They are priced around $13-18.

I then moved onto some nigiri, which I generally prefer to maki. They have a long list of available sushi/sashimi. I ordered some tuna (maguro), otoro, white tuna, salmon (sake), smoked eel and sweet omelet (tamage). They sell their sushi by the piece rather than as a pair which is the norm. So, as an example, two pieces of the maguro, would cost $6.50. This is a comparable price to other high-end restaurants, though about $2 more than average Japanese restaurants.

So are you paying extra just for the location, just because the restaurant happens to be in Boston? Are you paying extra just because it is more of a high-end place? No, I do not believe that is the case at all.

The pieces of sushi are actually large, significantly larger than what you get in most average sushi places. So for the extra cost you are getting plenty of extra fish. And that makes the cost far more reasonable. The sushi tasted very fresh and was quite delicious. The otoro was as buttery smooth as it should be and the eel had a great smoky taste. This was excellent sushi and I was very pleased with it. I could have easily made an entire meal out of the sushi.

I also tried the Miso Black Cod appetizer ($13), which consists of a good-sized piece of Black Cod with grilled asparagus. The fish was flaky and tender, with a nice sweet glaze from the miso sauce. A dish I would recommend. I cannot say the same for the Shrimp Tempura ($8.50). I received four pieces of shrimp but the tempura coating was not crisp enough and almost seemed soggy. It was disappointing, especially as I am a big fan of tempura. The Crispy Calamari ($9) was a much crispier choice. There were plenty of rings of fried calamari with a thicker and crunchier coating. I also liked the spicy peanut sauce that came with the Calamari.

There were a few minor service issues though service was generally good. But, I am willing to give them some leeway on this as they are still relatively new and working out such issues. It mainly seems that a few servers need some additional experience. This is a typical problem with new restaurants. It is something though than can be fairly easily remedied and which should improve soon enough.

By the time I was finished with dinner, the restaurant was quite busy, nearly full. And this was only a Wednesday night. On a weekend, I am sure reservations would definitely be needed. It seems Haru has already become a popular place even though it has been open only for a short time.

After dinner, I moved to the lounge to spend a little time sipping Sake and chatting with a friend. The bartenders were very personable, helping to set a welcoming mood. One mentioned that on the weekends, the people are stacked four deep at the bar. I certainly can believe it, even for such a new place. It is an enticing, hip spot for a drink.

Overall, I was impressed with Haru. It has an excellent ambience, very hip and modern. The sushi is first-class and reasonably priced for the quantity and quality you receive. There are plenty of other dishes which sound interesting and which I would like to try. Their Sake and cocktails are diverse and very good. Service was good, though it needs a little improvement. This is a new restaurant headed in the right direction.

I will certainly be returning to Haru and hope to see you there as well.

55 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA
Phone: (617) 536-0770

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