Cocktails: Rhyme spiced rum, root beer leaf, ginger soda, Tranquility citrus vodka, lemongrass infused oolong tea. I'll be having the tranquility again, it had nice harmony while making sense as a lead-in to the coming meal.
SHAKEN CHILI BEEF TARTARE tapioca shaved shallots. Tapioca throughout the chopped beef added a very interesting textural component while the entire composition balanced heat very nicely.
LOBSTER DUMPLINGS soy truffle vinegar. Water chestnuts inside the packet add familiar crunch to a rather simple dumpling.
CHARRED FILET OF BEEF wonton potatoes mustard foam The foam, a softened version of traditional Chinese mustard, served to draw sweetness from the beef and its sauce (served on the side). The crisp potatoes added a crunchy texture and salt to a dish that without them would be called unctuous.
BLACK BEAN LOBSTER sweet corn, lotus root. The lotus added chew to an otherwise soft dish. All together, it felt like the black beans and corn tried so hard to stay out of the way of the lobster that no one came to the forefront, and the dish ended up being flat as a result.
CRAB FRIED RICE wok scrambled egg sweet crab, fluffy eggs, notes of sesame and onion. Simple and good for it.
BLOOD ORANGE SORBET AND GINGER LEMONGRASS SORBET Thai basil geleé, kalamanzi seltzer, fried ginger chip. Citrus sections with the sorbets on top with little cubes of the basil geleé adding an almost licorice component as a contrast. A refreshing note to tie the meal up.
KAFIR LIME TART steamed yuzu soufflé, candied citrus, lemon custard ice cream The soufflé was rather light in flavor, but the brown butter notes in the tart's pastry were exemplary.
Hands down the coolest men's/women's sign I have seen.
Sometimes sharing is cool -- sharing food, sharing good times, and sharing time. Buddakan is about all three. Did you and your family ever take the big round table at the back of the local Chinese place with the lazy Susan in the middle and have a spontaneous celebration out of sharing the dishes? Well, if your dad wears Armani suits and your little brother doesn’t need the paper wedge and rubber bands around his chopsticks, this may be the place to go have this moment.
The food is interesting, if not daring. These are the well-heeled versions of flavors you know, more Asian-themed or inspired than Asian. The food is served in the middle of the table, from large plates with serving spoons, and the courses stagger, almost forcing the sharing you would do with bowls of General Tso’s but may not have been inclined to do with sliced and plated filet of beef. Each course is well thought out; when spice is involved it is serious, but not overwhelming. Textures of water chestnuts, tapioca and lotus root involve themselves creatively and familiarly, and luxury items like lobster are real Maine lobster and not warm water tails.
The ingredients are of high quality. I was most pleased with the dish that had a direct correlation in the more familiar versions of Chinese restaurants, the Crab Fried Rice. The rice was soft, the eggs were fluffy, the crab was real and sweet, each thing showed its own flavor and the whole tied together harmoniously. The Shaken Chili Beef Tartare was fantastic -- the chili oil bringing subtle heat; the Thai basil fresh, minty and peppery; the tapioca adding a very interesting chew; with the sesame crisp adding a nutty, crackling component. All together, it served to remind you that the Tartars started their rides West deep on the Asian continent.
Not all the dishes were wonderful. I found the Lobster Dumplings hard to handle and thought the Black Beans Lobster was a little dull, but the people next to me chose the lobster as their favorite dish in the end-of-meal questionnaire (you have to do a little work when you are either friend or family, it is the restaurant business after all), so in a place all about sharing it would seem to make sense to have things I find blah if someone else at my table may love it.
The space is awesome, with an emphasis on the AWE. It is enormous and, as far as places for sharing, it has many. There is a huge area that reminds me of the ballroom in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” for large group reveling. There is an intimate little red room for sharing with a date. There is a bar for tipping back a few at the launch of an evening, and a subterranean Library-themed lounge bathed in gold light for wearing your best Manhattan-black outfit. At the periphery of these rooms are nice areas to enjoy the food without involving yourself in the scene, including a small room I imagine groups of four would enjoy while observing the bar across the way and looking down into the ballroom.
I am not sure how to guarantee yourself the proper room assignment, but when you call for your reservation I would definitely discuss your company and mood preferences with the reservationists. I imagine a group of office workers may want the room above the main hall, while if the boss was along you would want to end up in the hallway with all the Buddha pictures. But if the Sales guy was taking the big clients, only the grand room would do, and if you and a date want to feed each other the scallops on the House Special Rice from chopsticks I would hope you ended up in the red room (though maybe the upstairs hall or border of the ballroom would do).
No restaurant will ever be everything to everybody, especially the bodies in this town. When you find yourself saying “we need a fun place to go tonight,” I suspect you will end up happy if one of your next thoughts is “Buddakan.”