Located in the same building as Chelsea Market is a restaurant many New York visitors just want to try. Buddakan. The entrance is nothing more than a discreet door on the side of the market building with a small steel plaque indicating its location.
The visuals of this place are out to impress. It’s classy. It’s sexy. It’s bold. It’s a little over the top. A massive mural of The Feast of Acheloüs marks where the reception desk is and it’s at this point that any die-hard Sex and the City fan will recognise the restaurant from the first movie.
A large bar lounge scattered with drinking and dining tables wraps around the periphery of the room and the light is dimmed to the point of needing to squint to see if your companions are sitting somewhere in the sultry darkness. It looks like the average dress code of the crowd is New York chic so I’m glad I ironed my shirt for the night otherwise entry may have been denied. No riffraff at the Buddakan, folks.
Our initial booking did request being seated in the large sunken dining room but we were led to a dark table at the back of the top floor. One of us pipes up and after our host talked into his headpiece we were led downstairs to a candlelit table tucked in the corner of the main dining room. Sweet.
The Asian fusion menu had a lot going that the two of us wanted to try but simply couldn’t consume in one sitting. We start with the signature edamame dumplings ($12) that are impressive on sight but in overall texture they’re a little on the pasty side. The texture of puréed edamame gets a little much after the second dumpling but at least there’s a sweet and zesty shallot and sauternes broth as a tasty distraction.
The wok hay frog legs ($14) didn’t come with much of the amphibian but what we did get was flavoursome and ginger scented and a trail of golden chives and fried garlic chips provided some crunch. Soldiers of scallion pancakes ($12) spread thickly with a rich shredded beef short rib go down a treat with matchsticks of green apple that offer a juicy sweet and sourness, perfect with the slightly fatty meat.
Another Buddakan signature is the chilled udon noodles ($10). While I’m unsure as to why the words udon and noodles are used in the description when they mean the same thing (perhaps to not confuse a few poor souls?), the dish as a whole is extraordinary with its mix of flavours and textures. A light peanut sauce, candied ginger, chunks of fresh lime, bean sprouts, sugar snaps, cashews and a lime sorbet. It’s like a southeast Asian festival in a bowl.
The glazed Alaskan black cod ($26) is another impressive dish, perfectly burnished on the outside and silky-white inside. A tumble of cucumber brunoise connects the fish to a spicy and smokey eggplant relish laced with black beans. Loved it.
Dessert offerings in this temple of food are a little step away from the ordinary with a few unfamiliar creations and revamped classics. Our vanilla rhubarb shortcake ($10) is an airy twinkie-shaped sponge drizzled with Tsingtao sabayon, a slab of cheesecake semifreddo wearing a strawberry crumble and sorbet plus some tart rhubarb to bring it all together. And yes, the sabayon did taste of beer custard. Is anyone looking? I’m about to lick a plate.
While bubble tea isn’t one of my favourite beverages I couldn’t pass-up trying the honeydew bubble tea soup ($10). With a scoop of lychee sorbet taking centre stage, a colourful medley of melon balls, berries, large sago balls and firm coconut jelly paddle about in a chilled sweet coconut-based soup. Some may call it fruit salad with coconut juice. I’d call it refreshingly delicious. Same goes for the entire venue.