Tuesday, December 23, 2008

NYC Journal: Buddakan

As mentioned previously Fosco and Oz's flight arrived with no delay on Friday, allowing our heroes to make their dinner reservation at downtown pan-Asian hotspot Buddakan (N.B.: if you are interested in gorgeous web design, you need to follow that link to the website).

Buddakan is a Manhattan outpost of the Philadelphia-based Steven Starr Restaurant Group. Fosco is actually kind of a fan of Starr restaurants, after eating at Philadelphia's Pod several years ago (imagine eating yummy sushi while living inside a [just-slightly] updated version of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey and you'll be close).

"Top Chef" superfans may recall Buddakan as the home of everyone's favorite culinary Filipino: intense and talented (and unjustly-eliminated) Season 4 contestant Dale Talde, who was sous chef at Buddakan.

This was Fosco's second visit to Buddakan and it's always an experience. Above all things, the restaurant is gorgeous--like almost no place Fosco has ever eaten. The design concept can be described as Hitler's bunker meets Grauman's Chinese Theater. Seriously. Here are two shots of the breath-taking main room:

This time, Fosco and Oz were seated in this room:

It's like a combination fallout shelter/bordello! Sexy and fun!

And what about the food? Well, the food is consistently interesting, although there are occasionally inexplicable failures. Sadly, the first dish we tried fits into this category. When you read "Deviled Tuna Tartare: chili mayonnaise, scallions," what do you think? Well, it looks about right...

Yes, all the ingredients seem to be there: raw tuna, chili mayo (smeared on the side), scallions on top. But then there is that inexplicable layer of green stuff under the tuna. Know what that is? Hard-boiled egg whites in a green sauce (maybe wasabi-spiced?). Does that sound delicious? It's not. The tuna was fine (although redundantly tossed with an overly spicy chili oil in addition to the chili mayo), but that egg stuff was bad. Yuck.

Our other choices were much more successful. These are the Hunan beef bao with tamarind mustard and pickles. The mustard was grand.

And these are the scallion pancakes with braised beef short ribs and green apples:

It turns out that beef ribs are great with green apples. Who would have thought?

From the entree list, we chose the Mongolian lamb chops crusted with crystallized ginger. If I had my way, lamb would always be crusted with crystallized ginger.

One of the hits of the night was the earthy and satisfying (though hardly photogenic) wild mushroom chow fun. Fosco loves noodles and mushrooms and this is a perfect combination. Sadly, the pic does not capture the gorgeous mushroomy-brown lacquer on those noodles.

Dessert was excellent (which is surprising at an Asian restaurant, no?). Fosco had the yuzu-filled crepes with kaffir lime semifreddo and kalamanzi milk sherbet. The crepes are in the lower right. The semifreddo is on the lower left. And the extraordinary kalamanzi sherbet is sitting on that bird nest. It looks like an egg! Witty!

Oz enjoyed the cinnamon-spice donuts with quince crumble and cinnamon ice cream. Well, to be accurate, he enjoyed everything but the quince.

And yes, that is a hard candy in the shape of a spring. Here's the close up:

While it's not the best restaurant in NYC, Buddakan was good place to kick off a weekend of culinary fun. And there is no more visually interesting place you could eat--well, at least that you could get reservations at. Stay tuned for more posts from Fosco and Oz's weekend in NYC.

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