75 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

5-second summary:

Price Range–  Dinner entrees $21-44 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Posh and pretentious, club-like
Cuisine- Asian
Hits- Decor, a great menu mix of classic dishes with some unique twists to suit both traditionalists and more adventurous eaters
Misses- Pushy waiter, “money-first” atmosphere

Walking into Buddakan was like entering a posh night club.  Four hostesses fitted with headphones stood in front of a reception banquette of computers, punching and clicking with self-importance, as if they were NASA engineers readjusting the alignment of an orbiting satellite.  Despite the fact that the restaurant was nearly empty at the time of our early reservation, we had to wait a few moments to get their attention.  With cheerleader gusto and a plastic smile, one of the hostesses oozed a saccharine greeting: “Welcome to Buddakan.  Do you have a reservation with us today?”

She led us through a trendy lounge with low, square tables and a squat bar at the end of the room, through hardwood-floored hallways, and past what seemed like the restaurant’s VIP salon.  In the center of this cavernous space, down a V-shaped staircase, was a recessed room with a “Last Supper”-style table that had two seat at least two dozen guests.  Elaborate chandeliers lined this central table, and any number of envious diners could look down through geometric lattice panels that artfully lined the upper reaches of the high-ceilinged room, which reached at least three, maybe four, stories high.

We followed the hostess through sterile, cement-bricked halls into a side room with four curved entranceways lined with black molding and edged with dark shelves that housed rounded white vases.  Aesthetically, the decor was pleasing, with shape appeal, if not a bit masculine.  It had a smart, sleek, minimalist Asian feel with bold splashes of color (red and aqua) in each separate “room.”

Buddakan New York, sister restaurant to Buddakan Atlantic City and Buddakan Philadelphia, opened in 2006 with the flair and drama of a cabaret.  One of fifteen sites run by celebrated restauranteur Stephen Starr, Buddakan feels more Hollywood than New York, which makes sense given Starr’s background in cabaret, nightclubs, and theater.  In some ways, it feels a little out of place in Chelsea, as if it would be more at home in L.A., with scores of A-listers making their way down a red carpet and being photographed by paparazzi as they enter.

My friend, a writer by trade, and I were seated and given menus.  We couldn’t resist the temptation to share first impressions, both of which included an air of arrogance that hung thick like incense.  Buddakan, for all of its attractiveness was a little self-involved, the kind of place that reeeally wanted to be the kind of place where celebrities were seen.

Our waiter did little to dispel that impression.  “Which wines would we like start with?” he gushed.  When we indicated that we didn’t really care for wine just now, he stammered in shock and looked like we’d asked to pay for the meal in bottlecaps.  Without asking if we were interested in them, he then recited a litany of suggestions and seemed insulted when we didn’t take him up on any.

For appetizers, we decided to try one classic and one original dish from the dim sum menu.  Our General Tso’s dumplings were inordinately spicy, completely overshadowing the flavors of garlic and ginger.

Desperately seeking something to cool down my mouth, I scanned the room for our waiter, who was nowhere to be found.  “He abandoned us because we’re not ordering wine,” I quipped, launching a line of jokes about our waiter-as-salesman that lasted the duration of the meal.

“Definitely,” my friend agreed.  “The tables that spend more money get more attention.  I think he even wipes their mouths for them.”

Indeed, our waiter’s personality was a mixture of condescension and used-car-lot pushiness.  He attempted to steer us toward the pricier dishes, extolling their virtues as if we couldn’t read the descriptions on the menu ourselves  and nearly rolling his eyes when we chose for ourselves.  “Is he working on commission or what?” we snickered.

The second appetizer, taro puff lollipops, was the star of the meal.  A delicate sweet and sour sauce came alongside tender minced pork encased in crisp, round “shell” of taro, served on lollipop sticks.

My sweet and sour chicken entree, served with peppers and snow peas, was tasty but not really noteworthy.  Looking back, I might have gone with a more adventurous dish, but the menu was stacked with Asian favorites, so I chose to see how Buddakan handled one of mine.  The result was definitely tastier than my local Chinese takeout, but at least Lee’s Kitchen (with the lady who abruptly announces that my dinner will be available in “twenty minutes!” before hanging up on me) is definitely more hospitable.

Buddakan is dark and sexy, a great place for a date, but also presents itself as posh and pretentious.  It can be a little difficult to concentrate on the food because the dishes are overshadowed by the restaurant’s attitude.  The food is good, but Buddakan is way too busy being ultra-chic for one to even notice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: