One look at the menu and I grow suspicious. After all, the best restaurants tend to have small menus—short and sweet, patiently waiting to provide a transcendent experience because the chef has mastered every option on the menu. One look at a crowded Haakon’s Hall, however, and this place seems to be onto something nonetheless.
The lively atmosphere compliments the sleek, modern design: tall, cozy booths, a long communal table, and a dark wooden bar with a rustic yet sophisticated vibe.
As patrons sit down, they will find chef James Lenzi, former executive chef at Café Des Artistes, visiting table after table, personally delivering the dessert and enthusiastically conversing with his customers. His conspicuous presence at the front of the house is an anomoly of sorts in restaurants like Haakon’s Hall.
Chef Lenzi’s creativity is consistent throughout the menu. The watermelon and goat cheese salad is a blissful communion between two ingredients that unexpectedly result in the most refreshing summer salad. Swimming in a thick cream sauce, the mussels are cooked to perfection and garnished with bleu cheese, Italian bacon, and fresh herbs.
One of his Norwegian entrees, Kjoh-Akaker, tastes like an embellished version of a meatball, prepared with red wine sauce, vegetables, potatoes, and lingonberries. Thankfully, a crunchy garlic bread accompanies the dish—ideal for dipping in the delicious sauce while cleaning up the plate.
Though dessert is the least creative course on the menu, chef Lenzi still gives it a twist. The blueberry lemon cobbler is not surrounded by the traditional thick crust, but rather topped with vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with nuts. Unfortunately, however intriguing the frozen hot chocolate sounds (especially after the waitress raves about it for 10 minutes), it is a disappointment. An overload of crushed ice makes the drink significantly watery after a few minutes and the lack of a tantalizing chocolate taste proves that this dessert is worth skipping. But don’t be fooled—chef Lenzi makes a comeback with the Norwegian ice cream sandwich, which features chocolate and vanilla ice cream stuffed between a soft, warm waffle. The treat is so simple, but still delightful.
To further complement the extensive menu, the fare is easy on the wallet and the portions are rather generous. Plus, there is the added student bonus of free wi-fi. Haakon’s Hall may just become Max Caffé’s biggest competition by day, and Campo’s by night.
Haakon’s Hall is located at 1187 Amsterdam Ave. between W 119th and W 118th Streets.