Wednesday, February 20, 2008


H and I found ourselves at Buddakan in Philadelphia over the weekend, which is part of restaurant impresario Stephen Starr’s group of 15 restaurants (11 are in Philadelphia and they include the Striped Bass and Morimoto).

We had been trying to go for over a year, but could never get a reservation, which was usually, I admit, last minute. Sunday night on a holiday weekend, they were still packed, but we managed to snag a 7:45 reservation.

There is a minute waiting area and happily our table was ready… and a nice one it was with a giant Buddha looking over us. Of course, the Buddha is so big, he basically overlooks everyone.

Great and attentive service followed and really fabulous food. I feel a little sheepish now sharing not WHAT we ordered, but HOW MUCH. We definitely could have done with 1 or 2 or 3 fewer dishes, but who knew when we would ever get a reservation again, so we went for it.

We started with the Crispy Shrimp and Scallop Spring Rolls. They were rolled in long skinny rounds and deep fried and then cut at a very acute angle to allow the filling to show. WOW, they were tasty! Not greasy at all, but beautifully crispy. The plum sauce was nothing special, the mustard added a nice bit of heat.

The King Crab Dumplings were in the style of shumai, in other words the wrapper was brought up around the filling and the dumpling was left open at the top and then steamed. They were glorious. The seafood tasted fresh and beautifully seasoned. One tiny complaint. I wish they had been smaller to allow for an easy one bite appetizer.

We didn’t need to but we ordered the (smaller) Asian Caesar salad with spicy cashews. The cashews tasted sweeter than spicy, but they added a nice crunch. The dressing was very creamy and rich, but the salad was WAY overdressed…Not that it stopped us from eating most of it. We probably could have shaved off a couple hundred calories if the salad chef had had a lighter hand.

Our last appetizer was scallion pancakes. Interestingly, they were topped with what the menu said was braised beef short rib and soybean hummus. The topping was a fairly dry beef mixture that didn’t go particularly well with the scallion pancake. But maybe it was okay, because the scallion pancake was a little overcooked and hard and it needed something. Usually I find a good scallion pancake is fine on its own with maybe just a little dipping sauce.

The pan-roasted duck breast was wonderfully moist and I would have loved it if it hadn’t had five spice powder, which I detest, but I don’t blame the restaurant for that. The corn and scallion spoon bread was the richest, smoothest, creamiest, most toothsome version of that dish I’ve ever had.

The sesame crusted tuna was fine with a good dose of black sesame seeds to add interest. The accompanying salad (ginger, lemongrass and vegetable) was fresh and crisp and good enough to be served on it own. Actually our waiter told us, after I admired some of the largest crispiest onion rings I’ve ever seen, that the various accompaniments can usually be ordered separately. I’ll remember that for my next visit.

Wait, there was more…We also had a vegetable fried rice and Chinese eggplant and garlic sauce. The fried rice was super, not at all greasy and chock full of finely cut up veggies. Dee-licious. The Chinese eggplant wasn’t that different from a standard Chinese restaurant except that it was studded with pine nuts and golden raisins... very tasty.

Don’t tell anyone that we had room for only one dessert, but it was a good one. We had the Crème Brûlée, which was made with TWO kinds of vanilla - from Tahiti and Madagascar. It was rich yet rather fluffy and the vanilla flavor came through as strong and true.

I was impressed - one dud dish out of nine. And did you notice something? I have hardly mentioned the service at all. That’s a switch…usually, it’s all I talk about.

At Buddakan, the food was just about flawless; the service was seamless and completely inconspicuous. Our food was delivered promptly, our server checked up on us the right number of times and to be honest, I barely noticed he was there. I was left with more time to eat and less time to complain. What a nice experience, which I definitely want to try again.


Emiline said...

Wow, what a feast! Everything looks so delicious. I am jealous of you.
I'm glad you had a nice time. Next time I'll go with you.

Five spice powder...I don't think I'm crazy about it, but it's hard to say. I think mine is about 5 years old. At least. I don't ever use it.

Sue said...

You're on, kid. You get yourself here and it's my treat...

Five spice powder is nasty.

DebCarol said...

Hi Sue, I've been reading here for about 6 months . . . one of my favorite blogs. Never posted but had to chime in on this post. Philly is my hometown - live just outside city and loved reading about Buddakan - great review! Haven't been yet but now will plan to. And yes agree - five spice powder is nasty, very overpowering (is it the star anise that puts it over the top?)

Sue said...

Hi DebCarol!

I hope you love Buddakan as much as I do when you get there.

Yes, it's the star anise in the five spice powder that makes it horrible. Frankly, the fennel doesn't help either. These are the 5 spices: star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, and Szechwan peppercorns.

The College Gourmet said...

Wow you don't even know how jealous I am! I ate there two years ago for my birthday and it was terrific (although I must say Morimoto might have topped it!). When I was there I got the Chocolate Bento Box for dessert... delicious!

Eat any where else in Philadelphia?

Sue said...

Hi College Gourmet,
You SHOULD be jealous. It was so good...I've been to quite a few of Stephen Starr's restaurants. Any of them is a good bet.