Tao – “Buddha-licious”
Remember that scene in the movie Hitch when Eva Mendes goes to a speed-dating event with her permanently single friend and Will Smith traipses in past an enormous Buddha, hoping to redeem his honor whilst declaring his love for Eva? Did you think while watching: “wow, too bad Hitch stormed out of there because I bet the food is really great…?” Well we did. Made famous not only because of its cameo in the romantic comedy, but because of its frequent celebrity patrons, Tao is a definite New York must.
The food isn’t mind-blowing but the experience certainly makes it worth a visit. Be prepared to wait for a table for over an hour (even with reservations). In the meantime, head over to the bar and lounge area, which is cleverly separated from the main dining area by a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. The crowd is an interesting mix of young professionals, couples, tourists, and unsuspecting families with kids. This place is about seeing and being seen. As you sip your cocktail, waiting anxiously for the buzzer in your hand to ring (and which probably never will), you can sit on the slick leather seats and do some serious people watching. We counted some NBA players, and a few models in the hour we waited. So word to the wise, do not come here hungry unless you are prepared to slip the hostess a twenty.
Once you rejoice in the victory of scoring a table and have finally sat down, take in the room. This is trendy New-York dining at its finest and unlike any restaurant you’ll find in Montreal. The service is impeccable and surprisingly friendly for such a swanky place. Our waiter gave us a few suggestions and wasn’t pushy on anything and we ended up having some very unique and delicious dishes.
The food: tuna tartar on crispy rice (appetizer), swordfish with a chili drizzle and asparagus tempura (entrée), kung-pao chicken with assorted vegetables (entrée), banana pudding with fortune cookie crust (dessert), Tao infusion tea with lavender and chamomile.
It was difficult to choose a single entrée from the assortment on the menu (others included a mouth-watering beef tartar tempura and lobster dumplings). The tuna tartar was a departure from the traditional texture one normally sees with this appetizer. This one was more of a purée version, delicately seasoned and placed on warm crispy rice with a soft interior –definitely a highlight of the meal and a great way to warm up the palate. It’s a good idea to balance out a meat with a fish at Tao because both are done exquisitely. The swordfish was perfectly cooked and moist, and paired quite nicely with the sweet chili sauce. The asparagus tempura was an interesting side and complemented the flavors of the fish beautifully. The kung-pao chicken was delicious – not overly spicy or sweet – and that means a lot coming from someone who is not the biggest fan of Chinese food. The portions are quite large and the sharing concept is true to its Asian inspiration.
We often tend to judge a restaurant by its dessert. A bad dessert has the potential to ruin what would otherwise be a spectacular meal. This was not the case at Tao. The banana pudding is like a tropical-Thai twist on the Italian tiramisu. Layers of banana and fortune cookie crumbs with flavored custard in between were an immaculate and inspired way to end the meal. We paired this with a lovely lavender tea infusion which helped lighten the heaviness of the pudding.
All in all, an excellent meal without being too pretentious or avant-garde, and offering some great twists to the classics. Reserve early, and expect to pay about fifty bucks a head for a decent sized meal. If you are seated at the bench area and you’re short, opt for the chair or you will feel like a child in need of a booster seat during your meal. If you’re a tourist, leave the kids at home and DO NOT come dressed in your sightseeing attire of mom-jeans and sneakers.
Fun fact: it’s been reported that on occasion, the wait staff has to pull down people trying to climb the 20 ft. tall Buddha.
42 East 58th Street
New York City, 10022-1910
Cool Comfort in NYC's Theater District
If you want something a little less sceney but not without a significant cool factor, go to Eatery. Recommended by a local friend of ours, this place is not on the usual tourist radar and offers lots of delicious food choices. We stopped by on a busy Friday night without reservations and only waited five minutes for a table. However, those few minutes were certainly well spent– thanks to the mind-blowing cocktails created by the amazing man who tends bar here. He is clearly a master of his craft and takes his liquid creations very seriously. If you have the coconut-rum mojito you will have thought you died and went to heaven.
The food: crispy rice cakes (complimentary snack while you wait), baked Camembert with wine-soaked grapes (appetizer), braised short-rib with red-wine reduction (entrée), and chicken eggplant tortellini made in-house (entrée).
This meal was simple and fabulous. Sometimes simplicity goes a long way and this restaurant goes the full mile. The menu boasts some classic home-style cooking choices with some funky twists, but maintains an overall contemporary American style.
The rice-cakes you’re given instead of the usual bread and butter are odd-looking but you will end up finishing the basket by the time your appetizer arrives. The baked-brie could have been a bit warmer and gooey-er, but it was still great when paired with the wine-soaked grapes and French baguette. Mains are a bit heavy so a salad might have been better choice as a starter. The entrées were spectacular. Portions are perfect and not overly accessorized. The home-made tortellini was out of this world; light yet tasty, the broth-like sauce was a perfect compliment to the tender pasta.
While the dessert menu was very tempting, we were absolutely bursting with food so we opted out. Since you’re practically in the heart of Times Square, take a short walk down Broadway to make some room after your Eatery dinner and pop into Carnegie Deli for a slice of their traditional New York strawberry cheesecake instead.
Ninth Ave. at 53rd St.
New York City 10019