Monday, July 27, 2009
The Poo of Tao
So, the other night my friends and I went to Tao. You know, the Tao from Sex and the City; the Tao with the 16-foot Buddha; the Tao that’s too cool for school… yeah, that Tao. I was skeptical making my reservation at Tao, as I am with any restaurant whose fame is derived from its 15 minutes with the fab four. Now, to put this in a bit of perspective, the girls spent a scene at Tao on episode 51, which aired on Sunday, June 10, 2001. In a city where the new “it” restaurant can hardly hold the title from lunch to dinner, it’s hard to believe that anyplace deemed trendy, can stay as such for 8 years.
We arrived for our 9:15 reservation remarkably on time, slightly lubed from a few cocktails at an LGBT event held at the Metropolitan Museum. As we perused the waiting area it became clear what has happened to Tao. It was still jammed; however, it has now become a haven for menopausal Jerseyans celebrating the big 5-0 and Long Island fraternity boys treating their orange-skinned ladies to dinner on their six-month anniversary. Nonetheless we decided to reminisce about the golden year of Tao and moseyed up to the host stand.
The scantily clad hostess told us our table wasn’t ready yet and handed us a beeper. I tried to explain that beepers were prominent during the Zack Morris-phone years and there must be some error, “you see, we have a reservation and TGI Friday’s used beepers in the 90’s.” She just gave me a blank stare; I don’t think she spoke English.
About 20 minutes later we were shooting the hostess “nobody puts Baby in a corner” eyes, until my friend and I decide to march back over to her. As my friend began to complain, he opened with “I don’t think you understand the definition of a reservation,” (oh no he didn’t, yes he did). She ran down the laundry list of reason’s why they were busy, ending with “and, I mean, it is Tao.” To which, I turned to my friend as she looked on and said “Did she seriously just say ‘well, I mean, it is Tao?’” (oh, snap). Another hostess noticed this feline fight brewing just in time and frantically yelled, “Your table is ready, the best in the house, right this way,” and rid me of that incessantly flashing beeper.
Our table was not the best in the house, but nice enough – a half-moon booth facing the impressive Buddha. The interior is a site to see and the music’s great, but you could say the same thing about Buddakan, Morimoto, or Budda Bar. It was Restaurant Week (hence the high wait and low class), so we had a prix fixe menu from which to choose. We began with a round of cocktails - lychee martinis and Ruby Red Dragons. The lychee-tinis were good, but standard and boring. The Ruby Red Dragon is a mixture of Finlandia Grapefruit, yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) juice, and a dash of pomegranate juice. It was a multidimensional drink with several citrusy layers that worked in tandem to create something refreshing and surprising.
The appetizers we chose were pork potstickers, crispy tuna sashimi, and jumbo shrimp tempura. The potstickers were slightly better than the typical version, but at best I would say they were “fine.” The tempura shrimp were light and tasty without being greasy. The tuna sashimi was a silver dollar-sized plug of fresh raw tuna coated in panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and flash fried. The sashimi was the clear winner of the appetizer. The fish was excellent quality, with a salty and crispy crust that enhanced the meats flavor. I stole two from my friend’s plate.
Given our limited options from the prix fixe, two of us chose wasabi-crusted filet mignon for our entrée and the other two chose Chilean sea bass. The sea bass was a showstopper. It was thick, succulent and enlivened with sesame oil. The filet came pre-sliced with a bread crumb wasabi crust and a stack of onion rings on the side. The steak came a perfect medium rare and the flavor profile was spot on. The wasabi was tasty without overpowering the dish. I did, however, feel that the crust dried out the steak, but my friend disagreed. The onion rings were at least an inch thick and some of the best I’ve had. They weren’t greasy, but crunchy and salty.
For dessert, we again only opted for two of the four choices. We had three orders of chocolate spring rolls and one order of banana bread pudding. The spring rolls seemed to be a vial of melted chocolate wrapped in a traditional spring roll wrapper. It was crunchy with a creamy interior, rich, decadent, and delicious. The banana bread putting, on the other hand, seemed to be bananas, Cool Whip, and Nilla Wafers. It was refreshing and tasty, but something I can make from one aisle of the supermarket.
Although the food was solid, it was unimaginative and a bit formulaic. It’s obvious that Tao has done nothing to update its once-hip status and the scene is tired. The next time I get a beeper, I’ll be sure to hand it back and run.
Tao – 1 Sparkle *
42 East 58th Street
New York, NY 10022