March 20, 2005

Buddakan: Simple Serenity

Players: Dids and moi

Act I: Dali'ing in Philly

I had heard about the Dali exhibit at the Philadelphi Museum of Art a while back and being a Dali fan, was all excited and giddy like the proverbial schoolgirl. However, finding someone who not only was interested in Dali but also had the time to come along with me on a day trip to Philly was kinda challenging. Finally, Dids agreed (something about having a week off between jobs). Sweet! A nice car ride to Philly and back with oodles of Dali in the middle. The only thing that could make this better was eating a a nice place. So of course, we planned on having dinner in Philly, and we chose Buddakan.

The day of the trip arrived and it turned out to be a nice sunny March morn. Dids and I girded up for battle with the inevitable traffic on I-95 (which is done by either practicing curses and certain gestures or by entering a zen state of mind where none shall intrude -- we chose the latter) and got into my trusty Saab. Interestingly enough, there were no delays on 95 until we had reached Philly. That didn't mean that there weren't idiot drivers on the road who insisted on straddling lanes, refusing to use turn signals, or inisted on going at the minimum speed on the fast lane. No, it just meant that we arrived in Philly without slowing to a crawl for more than a mile or so along the way.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art was imposing and pretty big. Having set out focus on the Dali exhibit, we didn't get to see much of the rest of the museum. The Dali exhibit itself took almsot 2.5 hours to get through. The museum itself was rather packed; moreso than I would have imagined for a weekday. Word of advise: if you want to see the Dali exhibit, buy tickets in advance. When we got to the museum at 11am, the earliest tickets that you could buy were for 2:30pm. Luckily we had already bought ours for 1pm.

Since I'm not writing about art, I'll refrain from going on at length about the various aspects of the exhibit, but suffice it to say that it was well done, with pieces organized around Dali's various phases. There were some stellar pieces by Dali present there, including some not very famous pieces from his very early period and his late religious phase.

However, we finished up the Dali exhibit and spent some time meandering around the museum getting false directions from employees about where to find a particular Vermeer. *shrug* Soon dinner beckoned and we headed over to Buddakan.

Act II: Whither Shall We Go?

Now, I conveniently skipped through the whole decision process about where exactly to have dinner in Philly. As you may know, decisions of this magnitue are never easy for me. So many choices, so little time. This being especially true for Philly, where I had never been before, and isn't a normal destination for me.

Of course the first place I look nowadays is OpenTable, and in this case, they did have listings for Philly. So, I started looking at their Top 10 list for restaurant bookings in Philly. As I looked through the various restaurants, there appeared to be a sameness in their web pages. Enough that I started wondering what the heck was going on. A little research uncovered the fact that Stephen Starr owned fully half of the restaurants in that list: Morimoto, Buddakan, Tangerine, Alma de Cuba, etc. Weird and a little disconcerting. Kinda like Philly had a restaurant mafia. You only hope that the restaurant food doesn't exhibit the sameness and uniformity that their web sites do.

Well, for us the choice ended up being between Buddakan and Morimoto. I've wanted to go to Morimoto's ever since it opened, sicne I've been a Iron Chef (the Japanese original, not the American clone) fan for years. However, neither of us were in a sushi mood, and if I went to Morimoto, I would undoubtedly have to have the Omakase. So, we decided on Buddakan. I should mention that both Tangerine and alma de Cuba were in our short-list, but were thrown out for one reason or another ("dinnae feel like cuban food laddie" and "Tangerine seems ok").

So, Buddakan it was, looming buddha and all.

Act III: Idol Musings

We arrived at Buddakan early since the museum threw us out at 5pm. After some meanderings, we got to Buddakan jsut after 5:30. At that point Buddakan looked pretty empty and we were seated immediately. The first thing that strikes you as you enter Buddakan is that it's pretty dark. It's got the whole chic mood lighting thing going on. However, to offset that, a lot of Buddakan's decor is white. This works in its favor by creating more reflected light than would otherwise be there. The dominating colors presetn were white and dark wood. Even the wait staff were dressed in white: white slacks/jeans with a white t-shirt. Lemme just mention that this is not a very flattering uniform for most of the staff there. It does allow the staff to blend in to the background (go white walls!).

The one thing that Buddakan does well is the ambient noise level. There's almost a perfect blend of ambient noise and the level of chatter created by the patrons. It was very hard for us to hear conversations going on next to us, but we didn't have to shout to talk amongst ourselves. I really liked that.

Last, but certainly not least, I must pay homage to the looming buddha statue. It is the focus of the restaurant and the only brightly colored decor (yellow buddha with red background). A very conscious effort to make people focus on this over-sized calm, serene expressioned idol. I'm torn between liking it and thinking it's crass commercialization of the Buddha.

We got seated right next to the waterwall that seperates part of dining area from the reception area. It was kind of cool. However, I should have asked to be seated in the mezzanine floor: better view.

Act IV: Repast Re-pasts

Buddakan has a decent-sized menu but unfortunately not one with variety in it. We started off with a couple of drinks: the Zen-gria and some concoction with prickly pear in it. The former was nice and light, while the latter tasted heavily of alcohol. Both tasted good.

The appetizers, as happens lately with a lot of restaurants, looked more appetizing (sic) than the entrees. After a lot of debate, we settled on the edamame ravioli, the pan-seared diver scallops and ahi tuna on watermelon (the special for the day). The edamame ravioli was interesting: the filling consisted of edamame and fingerling potato paste. The scallops were very good and the combination of sake-marinated pineapples and a black vinegar syrup melded together very well. As for the tuna, the ingredients themselves (tuna and watermelon) were great. However, the flavors didn't seem to work well together and left me with a very unsatisfied palate.

The entrees were uninteresting to me. While I appreciated the simplicity of the dishes, the fact that there was nothing that leaped out at me as being interesting, innovative or even unusual was a disappointment. I chose the Japanese black cod after some thought. There were a couple of other entrees that were in the running: the wasabi filet mignon and the chilean sea bass, but it wasn't a red meat day and the chilean sea bass is being hunted to extinction. So, the black cod it was. If you are a lobster kind of person, I would suggest that you go with the Angry Lobster IV entree. The people next to us had ordered it and it looked great, served in a great big bowl with lots of garnishings. The cod, as with everything else, arrived startlingly fast. The fish was wonderfully cooked with a very subtle flavor. The accompanying wasabi mashed potatoes were divine. They made the dish. The only reason I didn't completely scarf down the mashed potatoes was that I was leaving some room for dessert.

Dessert is always a crucial element to any meal, and Buddakan delivered in this department much better than it had in the others. My first instinct was to go for the chocolate bento box (warm chocolate cake, dark chocolate panna cotta with cocoa-ginger biscotti, white chocolate-espresso pot de creme, milk chocolate mousse cube atop hazelnut crunch, chocolate almonds and bittersweet sorbet!!!!!), but it was meant for two, and someone at our table isn't a big fan of chocolate desserts. So, we ended up ordering the "Dip Sum" doughnuts and the gingerbread pudding. both turned out to be finger-licking good. The doughnuts came with chocolate sauce, blackberry jam and a ginger cream, and dipping the doughnuts in those sauces was fun and delicious. The gingerbread dish was very subtly flavored inspite of being so rich. We ended up doggy-bagging them since we couldn't finish everything.


A wonderful experience in everything except cuisine. And the only reason that I say that is because I was disappointed with the innovativeness of the dishes and ingredient combinations. The food itself was well cooked and implemented very well. The decor was nice and simple and the ambience cool.

I should also make mention of the overly eager staff. Our server was good, helpful and knowledgeable. However, she as well as others of the wait staff tended to want to hurry us along in our meal, which was irritating, to say the least. When you get asked 3-4 times whether you are done with your appetizers, it tends to become frustrating.


Buddakan Review
Service Friendly, helpful and rather too quick
Decor Simple whites and dark wood, with looming buddha
Food Simple, Good but nothing extraordinary