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.
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.