• Braden Bouchard

Hi-Collar - NYC

Updated: Jan 25

I was truly shocked by my experience eating at Hi-Collar. Picked solely for its close proximity to another activity on our trip, I went in, as always, with an open mind. We went around brunch time, which felt appropriate judging from this venue's menu. Now I knew, from the photos and descriptions, our meal would likely be tasty, but I didn’t expect to eat the most delicious pork I’ve ever had in my life.

Setting the scene, Hi-Collar is quiet and quaint, styled like a Japanese home in a minimalist wood style. An abundance of plants hang just high enough above the entryway to the dining area. Some walls are slotted, allowing natural light to spill into the space towards the dining room, as well as the kitchen, which, are far as was able to be assumed, actually sat behind a divider in the center of the dining area. A very interesting choice, and one I gladly welcomed, as I’ll embrace any chance for the smallest glimpse of seasoned chefs performing their craft. Hi-Collar isn’t a large restaurant, and the dining is setup primarily to accommodate two tops. This might be a place you want to avoid going with a larger group.

Above: Looking towards the dining room from the front of the restaurant. The screen to the right of the large plants was where the kitchen appeared to be. Below: The view to one side from our table.

Starting with drinks, the Vietnamese coffee was sadly, disappointing. It was bland and bitter, the opposite of my usual experiences with it. It tasted as though it had very little, if any, sweet condensed milk, somewhat the defining characteristic of Vietnamese coffee. Thankfully, we weren’t here for drinks, and this was the only drawback of the entire experience. I got the pork Katsu sandwich, and my partner got the iconic fluffy pancakes. Although the price point isn’t ideal, roughly $14-16 for the one sandwich or two pancakes, your money ends up going a long way when you consider the flavor that’s being delivered. This is simple food elevated. It’s filling enough, while still leaving you wanting just a couple more bites, which is a difficult balance to achieve. It somehow adds to the moment, I feel as though it makes it easier to recall the memory of it fondly and frequently, as opposed to a great meal you ate until you felt sick. It makes your mind crave that experience again.

The pancakes, or hot cakes, (which may be a nod to the McD’s breakfast staple) are served two to an order, with syrup and a small serving of butter. The cakes themselves genuinely have an almost identical resemblance to the density and mouthfeel of fresh pound cake. Simple but decadent, as well as filling. The star of the show here, in terms of flavor, is the butter, which has been infused with vanilla and orange. There’s enough flavor there, as well as moisture from the cakes, to warrant the syrup unnecessary. It feels like you’re eating dessert for breakfast without disintegrating your teeth. If I were to recommend a single item here to the general public, it’d likely be the hot cakes. If you’re a meat eater, get this and the Katsu, you will not be disappointed.

Since I’m obsessed with anything pork and deep fried, I immediately opted for the Katsu, and I’m glad I did. Not my words, nor my photo, can do this thing justice. This was the best piece of pork I’ve ever put in my mouth. It’s truly a feat of food engineering. It makes no sense how you can have so much moisture retained in the meat, on plain white bread, without things getting soggy. The chew is like a medium rare steak, and the juiciness reminiscent of on the bone fried chicken, glistening in a sheen of gorgeous oil. I’m not sure what the cut was, but from the shape and the fat cap, I’d have to guess it was a boneless chop. Out of a six day trip, this might’ve been my favorite singular thing that I ate. It’s that good. Simple, true to its roots, with a heavy emphasis on ingredient quality and technique.

Of course, there are other options at Hi-Collar as well. Likely their other best seller, is the Omurice omelette, a specific type of omelette that creates a "pocket" of runny scrambled eggs in the center, then is placed on top of fried rice, and split end to end, so the runny eggs cascade down the rice and envelope everything on the plate. In addition to food, Hi-Collar is very invested in their quality offering of coffee beans and Japanese whiskies. There's even a late night bites menu, which included a very interesting twist on a classic, udon carbonara. Even if you despise both of the things that I ate here, you can probably still find something to your liking when you go.

If you’re near Hi-Collar, run, don’t walk, and go try this shit. My partner hates most things pork, and even she enjoyed the bite that she took. This is a meal that I’ve thought about every day since my experience 11 days ago. In my opinion, this is a special place, one of those spots that does a few specific things very, very well. The attention to detail is evident in the overall balance of each individual element. They were all tasty on their own, but work harmoniously in a way that could be best described as gastronomic gestalt. If I lived in NYC, I would absolutely put this on my regulars list immediately. I hope your experience at Hi-Collar mirrors my own. Cheers.

Below: View of the front entryway as you're exiting. Until next time

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