You have been warned...
Buddakan NYC was opened by Zagat's 2007 Restaurateur of the Year, Stephen Starr. He is also known for many restaurants in Philadelphia, and Morimoto (as in the Iron Chef Morimoto) in New York. Needless to say, I had high hopes for this meal. And in many ways, these expectations were definitely met.
The restaurant entrance is discreetly marked with one small sign next to the door, which suggests a mysterious "secret location" vibe, although the restaurant itself is definitely no secret (see fun fact below). Diners are received at the front desk which is a long counter strangely resembling a hotel concierge. They wait for their tables in the bar and lounge area. All is dimly lit by yellow overhead lighting and lamps on the tables. The atmosphere: definitely sophisticated and plush. The dining area is concealed around the corner on the lower level. The main dining room is, in a word, opulent. A long communal table stretches down the center and ornate chandeliers hang overhead from the high ceiling. The entire room is cast in a pinkish gold light. There are several dimmer, smaller dining rooms off the sides. All are equally sumptuous, and this is where I enjoyed my meal.
I was looking forward to raving about the entire meal. And at the beginning, it looked promising. They serve this divine cocktail called Fate, made with pineapple, elderflower and prosecco. It's as delicious as it sounds. I had done a light research beforehand, so I knew that we had to order the Edamame Dumplings as an appetizer. Another reviewer had said that they surely would be on the menu in heaven. I couldn't agree more. The dumplings were steamed and filled with a smooth and creamy filling. The texture was like a mousse, and tasted somewhat mushroom-y or truffle-y. They were served in a slightly tangy shallot-sauternes broth which perfectly balanced the richness of the filling. I could have had an entire meal of them.
The two main course dishes were Dungeness Crab Sticky Rice and Mao Poe Tofu. The crab rice was served in the crab shell. It was perfectly cooked and showcased the lump crabmeat well. The tofu, which came recommended by several reviews including one in the New York Times, was not quite as tasty. The tofu was cooked with ground pork and red pepper but it just was not anything special. It came with a bowl of plain ol' white rice. I could have done without that one.
Vanilla Tea Doughnuts were for dessert. These came with mandarin marmalade and vanilla ice cream. The dessert was well thought out; the bitterness of the marmalade and cold ice cream worked well with the hot and sweet doughnuts. Unfortunately, the doughnuts were heavy pieces of fried dough. They were dense and rather bland. However, they were rolled in a tea sugar which was wonderfully fragrant.
In general, Buddakan is very, very far from being a bad restaurant. The servers are nice and helpful, and the service is prompt but not rushed. The crowd is pleasant and the ambiance is amazing. The food is also great in general. Just a word of advice: order double the dumplings. And skip the doughnuts (I hear the Crying Chocolate is better anyways).
(Fun fact: Buddakan is the setting of Carrie and Big's rehearsal dinner in the Sex and the City movie.)
75 9th Ave
New York, NY 10011-7006
Image credit: francoissimon.typepad.fr
Making risotto is a bit of a process. It takes about 20 minutes of continuous stirring to release the starch that creates that crucial creamy consistency. The cooking liquid (broth or stock) is gradually added as the rice cooks; simply dumping it in will not result in the right texture. (I unfortunately speak from experience...) Risotto is not something to stress over (it is comfort food, after all) but it requires some patience. The slow stirring of a bubbling pot is really all that is required, and the effort is well rewarded in the end.
Risotto cannot be rushed, but once it is made it needs to be consumed while it retains the perfect slumped-on-the-plate, neither-gluey-nor-soupy texture. (I remember hearing that many Italians refuse to eat leftover risotto as-is, which led to the invention of those delicious fried risotto balls, arancini.) When done right, fresh risotto can be a big bowl of bliss.
Today, I made the classic mushroom variation. Dried porcini mushrooms give the risotto a warm earthiness and "mushroominess", while the fresh wild mushrooms are dressed with a zesty lemon vinaigrette. The contrast of the two preparations is genius, to which I must credit Jamie Oliver. Here, I used portobello and crimini mushrooms, but if you have access to other varieties of mushrooms then I can think of very few better ways to use them.
(On a side note, Whole Foods would be a good place to look; I recall seeing golden chanterelles, speckled lobster and black trumpet mushrooms the last time I checked. It was rather exciting.)
On an unrelated note, a new website has wandered onto my radar: cookstr.com. It boasts an extensive collection of recipes from famous chefs and cookbook authors. The recipes span all skill levels and cuisines, and many are accompanied by the all-important hunger-inducing photos.
Grilled Mushroom Risotto
- 6 1/3 cups chicken stock
- Handful dried porcini mushrooms
- Olive oil
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 sticks celery, trimmed and finely chopped
- 14 ounces risotto rice
- 2/3 cup vermouth or white wine
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large handfuls wild mushrooms (try chanterelles, shiitake, black trumpet or oyster - definitely no button mushrooms, please!), cleaned and sliced
- Few sprigs fresh chervil, tarragon or parsley, leaves picked and chopped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Heat stock in a saucepan and keep it on a low simmer.
Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl and pour in just enough hot stock to cover. Leave for a couple of minutes until they've softened. Fish them out of the stock and chop them, reserving the soaking liquid.
In a large pan, heat a glug of olive oil and add the onion and celery. Slowly fry without coloring for at least 10 minutes, then turn the heat up and add the rice. Give it a stir. Stir in the vermouth or wine - it'll smell fantastic! Keep stirring until the liquid has cooked into the rice. Now pour the porcini soaking liquid through a sieve into the pan and add the chopped porcini, a good pinch of salt and your first ladle of hot stock. Turn the heat down to a simmer and keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring and massaging the starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. This will take about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, get a dry griddle pan hot and grill the wild mushrooms until soft. If your pan isn't big enough, do this in batches. Put them into a bowl and add the chopped herbs, a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Using your hands toss everything together - this is going to be incredible!
Take the risotto off the heat and check the seasoning carefully. Stir in the butter and the Parmesan. You want it to be creamy and oozy in texture, so add a bit more stock if you think it needs it. Put a lid on and leave the risotto to relax for about 3 minutes.
Taste your risotto and add a little more seasoning or Parmesan if you like. Serve a good dollop of risotto topped with some grilled dressed mushrooms, a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Recipe courtesy of jamieoliver.com
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