Buddakan is the apotheosis, at least for the next 60 seconds, of a distinct genre: the post-millennial urban mess hall as supersize cocktail lounge with superstylized dishes, which chart a far-out trip to the Far East.
The specific cuisine in its sights is Chinese, and the real surprise is how good many of Buddakan's alternately faithful and fanciful interpretations of it are. A restaurant this sexy doesn't need to be smart.
V and I joined her brother, John, for dinner here to celebrate our birthdays. It was the second time I'd been to Buddakan, but my first time actually eating in the dining room. The restaurant has an amazing atmosphere; the main dining room is downstairs but open two stories up with huge chandeliers hanging overhead and wax-caked candlesticks on the tabletops. The side area in which we ate has pictures of Buddha heads randomly lit on the walls, and a dark environment that gives a sense of privacy.
Our server was very good and well informed about the food on the menu and made some excellent suggestions. The food is served family style, which was a great way to get tastes of several different dishes. Though the serving sizes and presentations seemed generally like a standard one-person entrees.
We started with a few appetizers, including the General Tso’s Dumpling, which was stuffed with chicken, ginger and garlic, which were served right from the steamer basket. I found the Crispy Calamari Salad with green apples, cashews, and a miso vinaigrette also to be very good. I was tempted to order the frog legs, but we shied away. The steamed sea bass roll with cabbage, ginger, sizzling scallion oil was good, tender and buttery, but a little forgettable.
We tried three main courses, and my favorite was the rich and flavorful Sizzling Short Rib with mushroom chow fun (noodles), and Asian pear. The meat was tender and a little fatty, the pear was refreshing, and the mushrooms and noodles were a great compliment. Next on my list was the Glazed Alaskan black cod with chili eggplant, black bean relish. The fish was light and flaky and the black bean relish was a nice flavor to go with it. The last dish served was a seared pork tenderloin with wild mushrooms, lotus scented rice, Chinese bacon. This was good, but I think we were all starting to get full and so it wasn't a favorite. I also felt like the rice, was a bit strong, but the tea-like flavor was good. We also ordered a side of charred asparagus that was amazing (for asparagus), it was not stringy, and had a great flavor with a "black bean foam."
Capping off the meal was a great cup of cappuccino and a Tempura Apple Fritter (essentially fried apple rings) with Saigon cinnamon anglaise (a white, creamy sauce) and salt and pepper caramel (a sauce that I found to be a little too peppery, or perhaps too dark of a caramel). Overall it was a great meal, with lots more on the menu I'd like to try. Combine that with top-notch service and it made for an excellent way to celebrate our birthdays!