It’s a rarity, but New York restaurants actually have been known to reopen after displaying “closed for renovations” signs. The most famous example involves 126-year-old landmark Gage & Tollner, which was slated to reopen in March of 2021, then announced it would remain shuttered, and finally reopened the following month.
Not quite as dramatic is the rebirth of the neighborhood restaurant formerly known as Hane Sushi after a six-month hiatus, though the changes to the place are considerable. Not least among these is the resurfacing of the drab brown wood walls in slate-gray panels. Diffuse lighting from a variety of sources gives the place a sexy look and feel.
One of the most salient differences is the relocation of the sushi bar from the center of the room to the rear (the large-screen TVs above it wisely deep-sixed) and the installation of a handsome cocktail bar in its place. Hence, the inclusion of the word lounge in the restaurant’s new handle, Hane Japanese Fusion & Lounge.
The playing up of the fusion angle is long overdue insofar as the restaurant has always been about more than just sushi. Many of the dishes it serves are unique creations that set it apart from your typical neighborhood sushi joint.
Take for example the tuna ravioli, in which the role of the pasta is played by pounded strips of the raw fish, the filling by a wasabi-tinged avocado purée, the sauce by a truffle oil-scented aïoli. Avocado turns up again in the “new style salmon tartar,” which also features mango, cilantro, apple, and onion, though the advertised ikura (red caviar) is less prevalent than the photo on the menu would have you believe.
If you go the hot appetizer route, stick with the shrimp shumai and pork gyoza, which are rendered in better than average versions. The negamaki is made for some reason with cream cheese, and the soft shell crab is so densely breaded that the flavor of the seafood is hard to discern, though the dish comes with a splendid little salad of mixed greens in a sprightly dressing; how much, please, for an order of salad?
The kitchen knows how to cook fish, as evidenced by the grilled striped bass — the skin crisp, the flesh moist. Spread the accompanying tomato and ginger relish liberally over the surface, and the fish takes on a new and compelling character.
Also praiseworthy is the yuzu-and-teriyaki-marinated Chilean sea bass, presented on a mound of al dente spinach fettucine.
Hane is perhaps one out of one Japanese restaurant to serve rack of lamb. You get four rib chops, arranged the way you would kindling for a campfire, each of the chops handsomely cross-hatched with grill stripes.
Dessert is the one course where fusion plays almost no role: With the lone exception of mochi ice cream, the sweets are uniformly western. Tartufo, a ball of chocolate ice cream encased in a chocolate shell, is presented under the name bomba — very refreshing. The chocolate fondant cake is good but seems somehow incongruent, especially after a course or two of raw fish. The house does a pretty fair crème brûlée.
One especially appealing feature of the new Hane is the glass French doors on the two street sides, which can be folded back when the weather is mild.
Price range: Appetizers—$5.95 to $15.95; main dishes—$18.95 to $26.95; desserts—$7 to $8.95.
Hane Japanese Fusion & Lounge, 346 First Avenue (at 20th St.), 212-598-9889, is open daily from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.