Buddakan in Philadelphia
I knew something was going to happen last Wednesday, the day before my birthday, but I didn't know what. This, in fact, was the full extent of my instructions from Debbie: "I'm picking you up at 9:30 am, so be ready." And so, I was... and had a totally fun, adventurous, loving, beautiful day in Philadelphia—my first time ever in that city!—capped by an excellent, extravagant feast at the original Buddakan.
I haven't been to Stephen Starr's NYC spin-off of the same name, so I can't compare (Starr also operates both Morimotos—in Philly and here in New York on 10th Avenue—as well as a number of other spots, one of which, Jones on Chestnut Street, was where we ate a serviceable, satisfying lunch), but taken wholly on its own merits, I can understand the hype that swirled around his bringing a Buddakan to the Meatpacking District last year.
Anyway, my birthday dinner. There was no tasting-menu option, so Debbie and I ordered three starters and two mains, just to get as much of a taste of the place as possible. Our first dish was possibly the best: three wonderfully chewy/creamy Edamame Ravioli sitting in a thin truffled shallot broth that gave the dish a nice bite. The Buddakan Style Sashimi was also very good, with its five thinly-sliced pieces of fresh, melty fish drizzled (and thus slightly cooked) in a hot, citrusy oil. Our third appetizer—Ginger Cured Salmon—was most notable for its superb tempura-fried pieces of nori, which managed to be both crispy and chewy and full of salty, seaweed flavor, and made for a nice counterpart to the soft smoked fish, especially when we skipped the too-sweet wasabi bavarian cream.
Next were the entrées. Debbie ordered the Sweet and Crispy Jumbo Shrimp, which was certainly visually appealing, if a bit sugary for my tastes, given that the intense citrus-radish salad, a dollop of which was placed on each piece, was difficult to eat in conjunction with the rest of the dish (but maybe I'm just a spazz). Meanwhile, I was busy tucking in to a monster plate of Asian Barbecue Pork, cooked just right, all rich and juicy and perfectly paired with a lively wasabi sauce.
Dessert came complete with a sparkler (when Debbie made the reservation they had asked if it was a special occasion, and then without any further reminders included the fireworks), and was completely scrumptious: a dense, milk chocolate ganache torte covered with buttery caramel, topped with vanilla ice cream and garnished with caramelized bananas. Sweet, sticky heaven. The best part, of course, was sharing the celebration with the woman I love (thanks for everything, gorgeous!)... but it's nice that the food was so special, too.
Budakkan is located at 325 Chestnut Street in the city of Philadelphia, a sort of strange part of town that seems to be home to tons of ugly discount stores (a la NYC's 14th St.), as well as lots of design-y bars and restaurants. We both thought Budakkan's decor was fun and interesting (I especially liked the face chairs), and the service super friendly.