Thursday, April 2, 2009
Posted by Endorphin Seeker at 7:37 AM
A couple weekends ago I dined at my ultimate Philadelphia favorite. It is probably apparent at this point that Stephen Starr tops my list of favorite restaurateurs, and on this particular occasion I was quite excited to be hobnobbing with three of my very good friends at Buddakan. It was my best friend’s birthday and I was thrilled to be taking her to Buddakan for the very first time! Buddakan originally opened in 1998 and I have dined here countless times over the years because it never fails to satiate the senses nor the stomach, usually leaving me to roll my Buddha-like belly out of the door.
The event was planned to be a small surprise for my friend, as she originally thought it was just to be the two of us having dinner; however, I arranged for two of our good friends, Shander and Tobias, to join us. It came as no surprise that Tobias was prompt and prepared by the door waiting for us, while Shander swaggered up about 15 minutes late. Tobias: 1 point. Shander: -1 point. Stepping in to Buddakan is like stepping in to another little world – the opulence of the restaurant is immediately apparent marked by the ultra-high ceilings and the gigantic gold Buddha that sits at the head of the communal table in the center of the dining room. Buzzing with energy, the restaurant has an air of social-euphoria, as Buddakan tends to be the place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special events – just as we were doing.
The food is all served family style, in shareable portions and served as it is prepared, thus we all agreed on three appetizers and three entrees. We started with the Kobe Beef Satay and the Pork Belly Buns. The Beef was juicy and full of flavor, and was served with tempura vegetables – crunchy, fried little delights. The pork was not something I would make a meal out of, due to the fatty, chewy consistency, but it was certainly a tasty meal-starter. Stuffed into floury buns, the dish made me imagine what a $15 hot dog might taste like. Timed perfectly, the Asian Caesar salad was served, thereafter. Loaded with
cashews, parmesan and leafy green lettuces, the Asian Caesar is always a favorite and more than enough for all four of us. I made sure to leave room for the best yet to come, however, our entrees and, my particular favorite, dessert.
The Aged Beef, prepared to a perfect medium rare and sliced into small bite-sized pieces, was presented with a mountain of szechuan fries, drizzled with wasabi sauce and a watercress salad. The Aged Beef is a house specialty, and bursts with flavor. The pork tenderloin, also served in bite-sized portions, is dressed in a tasty barbecue sauce and served with three giant panko-crusted onion rings. Anything fried at Buddakan is going to be a hit in my book. There is nothing greasy about the onion rings and each bite is filled with crunchy goodness. The Chinese broccoli served with the pork was also rather addictive and I couldn’t help going back for seconds. Finally we tried the pan-roasted duck breast served in a five-spice jus and served with a corn and scallion spoon bread. The duck was tender, juicy and aromatic, but the corn and scallion bread really caught my attention. It melted in my mouth and left me craving more.
After ordering dessert, Shander happened to take note of the desserts whizzing by, some of which were adorned with tall sparklers for the diners’ who were celebrating special occasions. He looked at me and asked, “Are we going to get one of those?” referring to the sparklers. Now, tell me if I’m wrong, but generally it should be a surprise when we arrange for candles to magically appear in the dessert upon being served. It is that thoughtful little gesture we make for the celebrant ahead of time. Apparently, however, Shander was going to do his best on this night, to make sure there were no surprises. I tried to ignore the question, but he was not ready to end his inquisition. “Seriously, I didn’t see you ask anyone for a candle, what’s the deal?” Despite my urge to jam my fist in his mouth to get him to shut up, I finally had to put Shander at ease, and reveal that we would indeed be receiving a sparkler, due to Tobias’ diligence in getting to the restaurant early in order to make the request. Surprise #2 ruined. Tobias: 2 points. Shander: -2 points. At about this time, Tobias, got a little excited and dumped the entire contents of his soda onto his lap. This spiced things up a bit and I’m going to give him another point for livening things up. Needless to say, his pants were soaked, but at least we all got a laugh out of it.
And then the holy grail of the night was placed onto our table – the Banana Tower, standing tall in its glory, the caramel walls glimmering beside the infamous sparkler. The inside was stuffed with bananas, caramel and cream making this one of my favorite Buddakan desserts. The other favorite was being devoured by Shander and Tobias, the Dip-Sum Doughnuts – sugar mini doughnuts served warm with blackberry jam, chocolate sauce and ginger cream cheese. Upon finishing up the rest of the ginger cream cheese , Shander so eloquently described that it was “like wiping God’s ass” with the last bit of his dip sum doughnut.
Almost three hours later, we had finally finished another amazing Buddakan experience. What a wonderful way to celebrate an entire year of sobriety – good friends, good food and one huge Buddha. Final score: Tobias: 3 points. Shander: -2 points. Me: 10 points (for making the whole night happen, of course). My Best Friend: well she wins, of course, to offset the pains of aging, as I’m sure winning at my juvenile scorekeeping game for this event will make her feel so much better about turning a year older.