Monday, November 21, 2011

Once, Twice, Three Times at Buddakan

Whole Peking Duck -- Buddakan

And so completes our accidental tour of the North American Buddakan restaurants.

For two people who are not wildly fond of Buddakan, we seem to be spending an awful lot of time here.  First came the mysterious (and awful) non-Best Thing I Ever Ate doughnuts at the Atlantic City outpost.  Then, mere days ago, we acquired the correct dip sum doughnuts at the Philadelphia location.  And now, for purposes of consuming Bobby Flay's BIRD IS THE WORD chosen dish of the whole peking duck, we have made our way to the New York Buddakan.

This, for the record, is about three too many Buddakan experiences. 
And Our Doctors Would Say Too Many Doughnuts
Stumbling through the giant door located just north of Chelsea Market, it takes time for our eyes to adjust to the inevitable dreary (verging on midnight-black) lighting that inexplicably fills each and every Buddakan.  Sounding entirely too much like our mothers (or, in this case, grandmothers), we debate whether or not we will be better off sitting at the bar or at a table, the subtext being "Which will make us feel less like we're eating in a dark tunnel?"  We decide on the bar, at least until the hostess points us into the adjacent room -- the one we could barely see due to the aforementioned bleak lighting and were therefore trying to avoid -- when we change our minds and ask for a table.
Where;s Thomas Edison When You Need Him?
The hostess still points us to the dreaded "lounge area," which seems to have only one lightbulb functioning for the entire room, in order to wait for our table "to be ready."  Now, this charade seems ridiculous to us, as we are now forced to awkwardly stand around this "lounge," filled with people who clearly do not need night-vision goggles to survive in this place, and wait for our "seater."  Said seater arrives moments later, rechecks us in for our reservation (WHY, Buddakan?!), and proceeds to recite her directions to follow her as if reading from a script.  She leads us down the (thankfully better lighted) stairs, Ginger smirking all the way at her Shakespearean recitation of our instructions, and into a room featuring a table built for King Arthur and his knights.
We Wonder How King Arthur Felt About Lo Mein
"You sit at one end and I'll sit at the other," Ginger suggests, and the situation seems merrily ludicrous because we can finally see ourselves in more than shadows for the first time all evening.

Until we are lead to our actual, non-Beauty and the Beast-sized table, which is located, naturally, in a electricity-lacking corner.

Being that we are starving, we try to make the best of our twilight-decor location and get down to the business of ordering.  Ginger chooses the Fever drink, featuring tequila, lime jalapeno, and pomegranate, which she finds enjoyable but Vodka thinks is deathly spicy.  Vodka settles on the less biting choice of the Charm cocktail, featuring prosecco, passion fruit liqueur, and fresh berries. 
Because There's Nothing Like Alcohol-Laden Berries to Get One Through a Third Trip to Buddakan
When we choose the whole peking duck and minced pork lo mein as our entrees, our waiter suggests that we order an appetizer because the duck will take a while to prepare.  We decline and then discuss how this phrase ("Do you want something to start because that will take a while?") seems to be one of waitstaff's favorite things to say to us (We're looking at you, Barbuto).  This ploy could be rendered moot if all restaurants would simply provide their guests with their culinary version of a bread basket: give us something to nosh on and stop trying to pawn off your lame appetizers, you cheapskates.

Plus, the waiter's whole suggestion is proven to be a farce when both of our dishes arrive, literally, five minutes later.  Very sneaky, Buddakan.
Fast Food Duck
Unfortunately, our ability to start eating immediately is hindered by the fact that the Buddakan "seaters" insist on placing one party and then another at the tables adjoining ours, despite the fact that dozens of other open tables are visible.  We find this practice annoying, not just because the constant movement of these interlopers is hindering Vodka's picture documentation (to say nothing of the effects of the ill lighting), but because the people seated next to us are SO LOUD that they manage to increase the volume of the entire restaurant by entirely too many decibels. 
Poor Picture Quality Courtesy of Buddakan's Electricity Department
"What is their problem?  It's too dark in here, it's not too loud," Vodka complains about our neighbors, and we wonder how we always manage to get strapped with the diners who never learned how to use their indoor voices in elementary school.

Eventually, we dig into our plate of duck, which features three small dishes of scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce beside it.
Peking Duckie, You're the One
The pancakes for our duck tacos are located in a small round basket, with a layer of filmy paper separating each.  This paper becomes a nuisance within seconds, as we pile it up in the middle of our table as if dining at The Hillbilly Cafe.
Next Time, Hold the Coffee Filters
Piling each pancake with the duck breast, crispy skin, and the accompaniments, we dive in.

And we chew silently for enough time to know that this dish is not the best thing we ever ate.
We Give It Three Quacks
Neither of us make a habit of eating Peking duck dishes, but we're aware enough to realize that this version is simply okay.  The duck itself, if tasted without the hoisin sauce, has absolutely no flavor.  It's barely even bland -- it's just not there at all.  The crispy skin of the duck is a slight improvement, though it, too, is helped greatly by smears of hoisin sauce.  The scallions do not taste remotely onion-like, and there are barely enough cucumber sticks for the amount of crunch we'd like to add to our duck creations.
Flock of Blah Duck Meat
Plus, the whole thing is a whopping $44.  For that price, you'd think they could have spared another cucumber.

Our minced pork lo mein is also on the mediocre side, though Ginger finds it more enjoyable if only because it tastes better than the monstrosity of a noodle dish that we had at the Atlantic City Buddakan.
And When Compared to "Gross," Most Things ARE an Improvement
The noodles themselves are so slippery that Vodka has to resort to lapping them into her mouth with her fork rather than the more festive chopsticks, and they feature so many red peppers that every other bite leaves her mouth scalding (Ginger, whose cocktail seems to have strengthened her palate, does not experience this death-by-pepper issue).
Noodles Playing the Slip N Slide
Just for kicks, we decide to order this Buddakan's featured doughnuts for dessert, which have been changed to the apple cider variety for the season.
The First Buddakan Doughnuts Featuring Holes
The doughnuts themselves are cakey -- almost too chewy -- though the creme fraiche ice cream which is provided with them is fairly delectable (most likely because its sauce features some sort of ingrained alcohol).
Here's a Tip, Buddakan: Start Infusing EVERYTHING with Alcohol
We request our check in order to get out of our final Buddakan experience as quickly as possible.  After all, if after three times, three separate tries, three different opportunities, Buddakan has still failed to win us over, we know there is no hope for the situation.  As we ease our way out of Buddakan's black shell of a building, Vodka expresses our final decision on Stephen Starr's Chinese trifecta: "No more Buddakan.  Ever."

Buddakan's Whole Peking Duck: 3 stars

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