Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Friday evening we ate at Buddakan, 16th St and 9th Ave, to celebrate Dan’s 25th birthday.  Dan had asked us to pick some place to eat that he and his friends would remember afterwards.  We’d gone through Zagat’s and come up with a few places but none of them seemed right.  Then Kathy emailed Jon and he suggested Buddakan, an Asian fusion restaurant, saying it was hard to get a reservation for eight that quickly but that he knew the chef and so would see what he could do.  He texted us the night before to say we were set with 7 pm reservat
ions that evening.

            We got to 16th and 9th but didn’t see the restaurant. The corner looked like a black box with no windows on it.  Then we noticed the imposing, ornate black doors

 and stepped through into what looked like an elaborate hotel lobby where we “checked in”.  We turned around to find a very noisy, crowded bar with lots of tables, at one of which Jon and his fiancée Ilona were already waiting.  Dan and his friends arrived a few minutes later and we were led down a main set of stairs into an imposing, ornate room

 with the middle of the room set up much like a table d’hote, with people being added to the table as they arrived. Nicely for us, we were led past the very busy main room into the quieter “Golden Library”, where the walls are lined with what look like glowing (law) books and seated at a private table. 

We were told to ignore the menu, that the executive chef, Lon Symensma, would choose what we’d be served. (Symensma had previously worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and I’d loved eating at both Vong’s and Jean-Georges’ so I figured that boded well for the food—and I was right!.) 

After Dan and his friends ordered fruity cocktails and Jon and Ilona got some saki, the meal began.  First served was yellowtail with a garlic soy sauce (and perhaps some wasabi since Kathy and Ilona found it spicy while Becca, Brandon, and I didn’t).  After that came two kinds of vegetarian dishes—edamame dumplings and then a dumpling that was made to look like little orange carrots.  This was followed by the best shrimp toast I’ve ever had.    But then my favorite part of the meal came out—crispy soft shell crabs with nice fluffly light rolls (though the name doesn’t seem to do them justice) to put them on.  They were delicious.  Becca and Ajuna, both of whom were reluctant to eat them because of the shells, even enjoyed them.  Next was boned Peking duck served with a plum sauce, scallions, cucumbers, and paper thin pancakes to eat it on.  Everyone seemed to love them.   By this time we were beginning to feel full, but the waiter insisted that the chef had a few more things in mind and put down sea bass wrapped in steamed cabbage with ginger and scallion oil—yummy!  Then “soup” was served—a duck and noodle soup.  Then the “entrée” came out—a pork, sausage, and eggplant dish with side dishes of califlower mixed with pork in a chili-garlic sauce and amazing vegetable rice with coconut curry foam.  We were stuffed and couldn’t eat all of it. 

Len Symensma then came out to meet us.    While he chatted with Jon, Becca and Brandon had what struck me as a funny conversation.  Brandon is starting class at the French Culinary Institute soon.  After meeting Symensma, he said that his goal wasn’t to be a chef at a restaurant like Buddakan, but to be a cook for a private family.  Becca announced in response that that was a great idea-- she thought she’d like to have a private cook when she was through college.  Smensma asked whose birthday it was, went over to say happy birthday to Dan, and then left.

And then dessert began with a crying chocolate tart birthday plate brought out for Dan. 

It was beautifully done.  This was followed by seven other desserts, some of which I can’t even remember because after the eleven other courses I was so full.  The ones that stand out were what looked like an elaborate banana s’more (called a chocolate mille-feuille) with banana between pieces of crunchy dark chocolate and served with spiced chocolate ice cream; a coconut crème brulee served with a lemongrass ice cream; a chocolate peanut butter bomb (which seemed to be Ilona’s favorite),  a “slinky” that tasted like toffee or caramel, though I didn’t eat much of it, various fruit sorbets, and tea donuts served with vanilla bean ice cream.

The whole evening was truly memorable, putting Buddakan up above Xavier’s as my favorite dining experience.  Even Becca, who had complained bitterly about having to give up a Friday evening to go, was blown away by the experience and stopped complaining about how late we got back into Dobbs Ferry.  

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