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Restaurant opening: Hai House brings Chinese-American eats to Palm Beach

Posted On: 12-05-2018

Diners can expect a restaurant that aims to multitask, with prices that are moderate (even value-driven) by island standards.

With sleek interiors and a local star chef in the kitchen, Hai House plans its Palm Beach debut Thursday night at The Esplanade plaza on Worth Avenue.

Diners can expect a restaurant that aims to multitask, with prices that are moderate (even value-driven) by island standards. It’s a sexy spot by candlelight, but there’s also a dim sum counter, a lounge-y private dining room, a takeout space and a full bar.

They can expect to be greeted with pots of steaming oolong tea and light-as-air fried noodles. And those seeking gluten-free and vegetarian dishes can expect to find plenty of options here.

The concept, announced in modern lines that evoke Southeast Asian decor, is modern Chinese American.

But really it’s “American Chinese,” as executive chef James Strine prefers to describe it. Strine is an industry veteran whose classical French training, earthy flavor combos and down-home, meat-smoking skills have landed him prominent positions at Café Boulud, Buccan and Grato. His menu at Hai House reflects something more personal -- his love of Chinese-American food.

“I’ve been eating it all my life,” says Strine, who was part of the culinary team that opened Echo, The Breakers’ pan-Asian restaurant, in 2000.

Although his culinary focus has not been Chinese cooking, the chef says he’s “having a blast” in his new kitchen.

“In my entire career, I don’t think I’ve been more comfortable with the food as I am now,” says Strine.

A preview sampling of his menu Tuesday reinforced Strine’s newly discovered comfort zone. His dishes, well presented but not overly fussy, make no attempt to replicate the average Chinese takeout grub. Instead, he employs his considerable experience to pay homage to familiar flavors and textures. He’s an interpreter, not a mimic.

The result is egg drop soup powered by a bold, deeply flavored chicken broth ($7) that’s scented with ginger and black pepper, an addictively crispy “seaweed” (actually baby kale) snack scattered with crispy slivered garlic and hinting of sesame ($10), sweet-sour pork ($18) that’s tossed with bell pepper and pineapple and presented in a half pineapple, a crispy Peking duck ($36 per person) that’s glazed with maltose and five-spice seasoning and served with foamy bao buns, an Emperor’s Lobster ($48) that spills from a shell of crispy thin noodles.

Planning the menu has been an adventure, says Strine, who has made shopping at local Asian markets part of his cooking life. Thanks to the local purveyors he has befriended, he has learned to place ingredients in a new context. Still, the chef will continue to draw inspiration from locally grown ingredients.

Local foodies who have followed his expert ways with wood-roasted meats may gravitate to Strine’s Cantonese-style char siu ribs ($15) on the Hai House menu. Cooking time: about eight hours. But Strine, who has been known to tote his meat smoker about the city, says he will not be doing that at Hai House -- at least not right now.

“Worth Avenue is not real conducive to me rolling my big-ass smoker around,” he says with a laugh. “We’re going to have to watch this grow organically. I hope people will come on the journey with me.”

The Hai House concept is dramatically different from the space’s previous resident, Costa Mediterranean restaurant, which closed in April after one year and three months in business. The space, tucked into The Esplanade’s second floor, has not been kind to restaurants. Previous inhabitants include GiGi’s Tap and Table, Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen and Trevini Ristorante.

But Hai House managing partner Manny Bornia is banking on the fact that good, upscale Chinese restaurants are a local rarity.

“There seems to be a need for Chinese food. We want to give the town what they have asked us for,” says Bornia, a marketing executive and restaurant consultant who most recently co-owned Basque, a short-lived Spanish tapas spot at the Biba hotel in West Palm.

In dreaming up Hai House, Bornia says he and his Collab Hospitality team sought to create a place “that felt special but was also accessible.”

“We don’t want to be the Worth Avenue restaurant that people are scared of because they think it’s this super-highbrow, expensive, white-tablecloth establishment,” he says. “This is a restaurant for the town. We’re here for the people to come to have a great Sunday dinner with the family at prices that are affordable.”

 

Source: Liz Balmaseda, December 5, 2018, Palm Beach Daily News

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Zimmerman Douglas Elliman

340 Royal Poinciana Way, Suite 318
Palm Beach, FL 33480

Jacqueline A. Zimmerman (561) 906-7153 Direct jz@PalmBeachProperty.com

Adam M. Zimmerman (561) 906-7152 Direct az@PalmBeachProperty.com

(561) 655-8600 Main Office

 
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Jacqueline A. Zimmerman(561) 906-7153pAdam M. Zimmerman(561) 906-7152pMain Office(561) 655-8600
Douglas Elliman, Licensed Real Estate Broker | 340 Royal Poinciana Way, Suite 318, Palm Beach, FL 33480


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