I'll be honest: I had a certain amount of apprehension going into Hakkasan. Between Willie Brown's warnings about the cost of a meal being so high you'd be strained to make your mortgage payment, the odd street level kiosk that smacks of Vegas style pretense, and the idea of this being an outpost of nine global locations delivering the same formula, the whole concept seemed so out of touch with San Francisco. In terms of first conceptual impressions, Hakkasan came off more like the old guy at the club trying to hangout with the cool kids, than a new harbinger of an international sophistication.
While I can't speak about the experience in the dining room, at the bar they do an outstanding job dispelling those concerns and deliver a unique, entertaining, and elegant experience that won't end with you working off the tab in the kitchen.
You can't talk about the cocktails at Hakkasan without mentioning the striking sapphire blue and stainless steel bar. The U-shape design is unique to this location -- the other eight are all flat and run the length of one of the walls. Here the owners decided to mimic the shape of the building and placed the bar dead center. It's so futuristic looking (in the best possible way), you half expect General Lando Calrissian to come flying in looking for the reactor core. The bar has six wells (meaning they can have six bartenders working at once, quite staggering), all designed with some kitchen elements similar to a garde-manger station, like low boys and refrigerated 1/9th pans for fresh ingredients.
Beverage Director Gian Carlo D'Urso who oversees the nine locations has smartly created a framework that allows for stylistic unity between the different bars, including a shared menu of drink recipes, but also allowed enough blank space on there for each bar to define some local flavor. At the San Francisco location bar manager Jessamine McLellan, a level two sommelier with biochemistry degree and experience running high-end bars, and her staff have added their own touches to the menu.
Of the globally available cocktails, the Plum Sour ($12, Yamazaki 12 Year Whisky, umeshu plum liqueur, lemon, egg white, Angostura Bitters) is a deliciously fascinating and exotic drink, but the Broken Promise ($12, St. George Breaking & Entering Bourbon, black grapes, cherry liqueur, lemon, egg white, Bitter Truth Creole style Bitters), a cocktail available here, is outstanding. The long and graceful custom glass made by English company John Jenkins gives the drink visual elegance, but even served in something more modest, the juice would taste just as good.
This drink is also appropriately the result of the bar team efforts to create a unique take on a whiskey sour, with Ashley Miller (formerly of Tres and the resident tequila expert) and Josh Bovee, who crafted an easy to enjoy cocktail with flavors from the rosemary more woodsy than piney, perfectly frothy with a light cherry finished.
The drink name references the use of the Breaking and Entering Bourbon, and while eating here might break the bank, the bar won't break your heart.
1 ½ oz. St. George Breaking & Entering Bourbon
7 Black grapes
½ oz. Leopold Bros. Tart Michigan Cherry Liqueur
¾ oz. Lemon juice
½ oz. egg white
½ oz. Rosemary simple syrup (or lightly muddle fresh rosemary with simple syrup)
3 dashes Bitter Truth Creole style Bitters
Muddle grapes in a mixing glass. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake very hard to create a frothy top and double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a rosemary tip.
Hakkasan, 1 Kearny (at Market), 829-8148