Of the two restaurants that Stephen Starr transplanted from Philadelphia last year, Buddakan seems to have been the more successful. Morimoto, on the other hand, didn’t quite live up to Starr’s promise that it would be “far more interesting than any restaurant New York has seen.” It even achieved the rare distinction of a “Don’t bother” rating from Andrea Strong, who hardly ever visits a restaurant she does not like.
Back to Buddakan: A business associate invited me to dinner there the other night — I suggested it, he was paying, which is always a pleasurable combination. The menu on the website seems to be outdated, or maybe it’s the Philadelphia menu, as the New York portion of the site is still “Under Construction.” After almost a year, when are they planning to finish it?
I can tell you we absolutely loved Deviled Tuna Tartare ($10), Crab and Corn Fritters ($14), Crispy Taro Puff Lollipops with pork and ginger ($12), and shrimp dumplings, most of which came from the Dim Sum section of the menu. Peking duck ($44) is the most expensive entrée, and at that price I missed the show of having the bird carved tableside, as the better Chinese restaurants do. The pancakes were smallish, and in the dark room they were almost indistinguishable from the paper doilies that were used to keep them from sticking together. The duck was fine, if a bit oily. A side order of Chinese Sausage Fried Rice topped with a fried egg ($12) didn’t have much sausage in it.
There are a lot of rooms at Buddakan. The one we were in didn’t have the “wow” power of the rooms usually featured in photos, but it was comfortable and not overly crowded. In the style of modern “small-plate” restaurants, dishes are designed for sharing and brought out when ready. Our table couldn’t quite accommodate all that food as the appetizers started to pile up.
Service was a little bit confused. Two sets of wine glasses were deposited and removed, before a third set arrived to stay. My colleague chose the wine. They always show the bottle to you, but this is the first time I recall a dining partner saying, “That’s not what I asked for.” And indeed it wasn’t. We began the evening at the cocktail bar. There was no option to transfer the tab to our table, nor did the hostess offer to carry our drinks.
Buddakan is a fun place, and there are enough hits on the menu that I’d gladly go back. But it is not the polished restaurant its owner would like to imagine.
Buddakan (75 Ninth Avenue between 15th & 16th Streets, Chelsea)