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Dinner at Buddakan, 10/20/07

Where do you take an old friend who's in town visiting to dinner on a Saturday night? The non-negotiable's: a place that's over-the-top, trendy, and sceney...but with good food. Is there such a place in Manhattan? Is all of this too much to ask?

The tourist in question is a friend of mine from Texas who has spent the past two years living in Amarillo, Texas. She's a woman of style and pizazz; a woman who gets star-struck at celeb sightings and follows Hollywood gossip to a "t"; a woman who would appreciate dining at one of NYC's ginormous cougar infested, "B&T" laden, velvet-rope mega-restaurants. With so many of these restaurants to choose from (i.e. Morimoto, Del Posto, Buddakan) how do you narrow your search down to one?After going back and forth, I finally decided to take my buddy to Buddakan. Having never been and not knowing what to expect, I played it safe and made a reservation for Saturday at 9 p.m. On our cab ride over to Buddakan, I was mentally preparing myself for the inevitable...a large crowd, 20-minute-long waits-in-line for a drink at the bar, lots of heavy cologne and bad perfume, etc. Once we arrived and checked in with the hostesses, my visitor and I went to the bar to wait for our other guest, who was stuck in traffic (incomplete parties are NEVER seated). We waited in line for cocktails for quite a while, but finally received our $13 drinks and found a place to sit (total shock). The interior of Buddakan is stunning and astronomically huge, especially by New York standards. The atmosphere is modern and chic with Asian accents (but a little too dimly lit for my taste). The acoustics of the restaurant were done very well, as I didn't find myself screaming to have a conversation amongst the sea of people. The crowd...oh, the crowd! The room was filled with everything from your typical cougar twosome, to your gold-chain-wearing pretty boy with too much hair gel and fake-baked orange skin...all the way to pre-teen birthday gatherings and girls-nights-out.

Our other diner arrived, making the party complete and "seatable" by restaurant standards. Despite this, we still had to wait an additional twenty-thirty minutes to be seated at our table (even with reservations). Though I wasn't surprised one bit, I was still miffed. Finally, we were whisked away to our table; one that I wasn't satisfied with, as I'd requested to be seated in the main downstairs dining room. Rather than bring this up to the hostesses and cause another delay in being seated, I bit my tongue and let the situation be.

All of the drinks at Buddakan have names like, "Jealousy," etc. As heinously cheesy as that sounds, all of the cocktails we had were unanimously enjoyed by the table and very tasty. Our waiter was great and recommended an array of wonderful dishes. We started with: scallion pancakes topped with braised short rib, lobster egg rolls and shrimp dumplings. The scallion pancakes came three to an order and were about 2" x 2" in size, which I thought was a pretty generous portion. Each chewy rectangle was lathered with sweetly braised short rib; the combination of the delicate meat with the salty pancake was delicious and unique. I believe that this preparation of incorporating beef atop the pancake is of Korean origin.Having had doughy, too-much-filler-and-not-enough-shrimp shrimp dumplings in the past, I wasn't expecting too much from Buddakan's version...but my guests insisted on ordering them. When the dumplings arrived, I was impressed that the dough surrounding the shrimp was thin enough to see the interior of the dumpling. After one bite, I knew that this was the best dumpling I've tasted. I was shocked to find that there was absolutely no filler inside of the dumpling...that the contents were whole chunks of shrimp and nothing else! What a treat this was!

The lobster egg rolls were light, crisp, filled with fresh veggies and chunks of luscious lobster meat. A sweet sesame dipping sauce accompanied the egg rolls. I must say that this was my favorite of the appetizers.

The waiter returned to our table and took our entree orders. The three of us decided to split the crispy jumbo shrimp, the house fried rice and ANOTHER order of the lobster spring rolls. The presentation of the food at Buddakan is lovely and artisticly plated. I was particularly impressed by the crispy jumbo shrimp. Five enormous shrimp arrived with a lightly crunchy exterior and a perfectly ocean-fresh, meaty interior. Each shrimp sat under a small salad of what appeared to be cucumber cut like spaghetti noodles.

The house fried rice was phenomenal and chuck-full of scallops, lobster and shrimp. I could have eaten ten more servings of this amazing dish. When the bowl arrived, there was a golden crust that almost "shattered" when the serving spoon was inserted into the underlying moist rice.

Overall, my experience at Buddakan was great. I enjoyed the decor, the fantastic drinks and the high-quality food. The scene was a bit over-the-top, but I suppose that when you add "new restaurant" plus "Meatpacking District" together, this is what you get. I hope to return to Buddakan soon, though unfortunately, it won't be in the near future...this gal can't do $100/person meals that often!

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