Restaurant Review: Buddakan

Happy New Year, friends! I hope that you enjoyed time with family and friends over the holidays and that amazing things are on the horizon for you in 2013.

Chester and I typically stay home and cook a nice dinner on New Year’s Eve. This suits me just fine, as I get to lounge around in yoga pants most of the day and am generally asleep by about ten minutes after midnight. But, after a holiday season filled with lots of baking, cooking and entertaining, neither one of us really wanted to spend any more time in the kitchen for awhile. So, we opted to get dressed up for a fancy dinner out at Buddakan instead.

I resolve to learn how to do my own eyeliner this year so I don't always have to have it done at Sephora when I'm going out.

I resolve to learn how to do my own eyeliner this year so I don’t always have to have it done at Sephora when I’m going out.

Buddakan was one of the first restaurants in Stephen Starr’s empire (he has since opened locations in New York and Atlantic City). and I think it’s still one of his best. The atmosphere is a little louder, trendier and darker than I typically prefer, but I always enjoy the food, so I can make an exception.

The menu features an extensive assortment of traditional dim sum dishes, noodles and rice, beef, fish and poultry. Everything is designed to be shared, and the portions are plentiful. So, while it’s a pricey night out, it’s definitely worthy of a special occasion and you won’t leave feeling hungry.

We chose three appetizers to start off our meal. The Peking duck buns, topped with crunchy scallions and pickled cucumbers, were our favorites. Although the duck had been shredded to fit the slider sized buns, it was cooked in a rich hoisin sauce and retained some of the crispy skin that is characteristic of a good Peking duck. Next up was the Kobe beef satay. I’m not sure that it was real Kobe, but it was perfectly prepared nonetheless–tender, with a nice, peppery flavor. My favorite part of that dish was actually the accompanying asparagus, potatoes and shitake mushrooms that had been battered and fried to a crisp. We wrapped up our first course with the pork dumplings, served in a spicy chili-soy broth. This was our least favorite of our three dishes, as the wrappers were a bit too chewy and for there could have been a bit more broth inside each one.

I rarely order beef when I’m out, but the Szechuan braised beef short ribs are one of my favorite entrees anywhere in the city. The beef is coated in a sweet and spicy tamarind barbecue sauce and comes apart easily with a fork. Each of the three pieces of beef was topped with crispy, salted taro (it reminds me of the addictive shoestring fries at one of Starr’s other restaurants, Continental), for an interesting mix of textures and flavors.

Chester chose the surf and turf special, which featured a lobster tail and Waygu beef. The lobster was a bit tough, so we assumed that it was probably frozen rather than fresh. This was disappointing in light of the price of the dish and didn’t make a lot sense since there were enough lobster based dishes on the menu that fresh lobsters would not have gone to waste. With the exception of a couple of tough pieces, the beef fared much better and was as tender and flavorful as the satay we enjoyed as an appetizer.  It was accompanied by mashed potatoes, which included just enough wasabi to jazz them up, but not so much that my sinuses felt like they were on fire.

Sadly, after overindulging on the first two courses, I had to opt out of dessert. But, from previous visits, I can tell you that you can’t go wrong with the Chocolate Bento Box. Basically, they concoct a pagoda out of chocolate and fill it with white chocolate cheesecake and chocolate pot de creme. The whole thing is topped with chocolate almonds, cashew bars, chocolate green tea macaroons and coffee truffles. The menu says it’s meant for two people, but I’m pretty sure that it could feed a small village.

After dinner, we decided it was way too cold for us to head to Penn’s Landing for midnight fireworks, so we opted to watch the Times Square ball drop on television instead. It was a successful start to the year, all around: I got to wear a pretty dress, eat amazing food, and spend time with my favorite person and I still got to sit around in my pajamas and fall asleep soon after my celebratory glass of champagne.

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