Every year on February 14, we celebrate a holiday of relationship status announcements. Whether you're happy to be single, pissed off at couples, showing off a new piece of jewelry, or think you're too smart to be sucked into the consumption of a corporate holiday (because Valentine's Day was DEFINITELY invited by Hallmark and there is DEFINITELY no marketing taint on the other holidays so you're DEFINITELY too smart for this planet), we opined wherever possible on "Vee Dee."
My wife and I were mostly quiet. We've been together too long -- in fact, I think the two of us can agree that days off from professing our love are more needed than days specially set aside to do so. Valentine's Day comes for us every time she comes back out of her sweatpants, or every day I eschew walking about in my underwear, for one another. That's true love, if you ask me, and we do that all the time.
We resisted the scene Friday night, but donned our denims on Saturday for dinner at Eat Street Buddha Kitchen. We celebrated with little Sakes, powerhouse pot stickers, and entrees that forever upped the ante on some of our favorite Asian dishes.To quote an old Michael Jordan valentine, I like their style!
The Basics: Buddha stands watch on the corner of 26th and Nicollet in Minneapolis. It shares a parking lot and one of the city's best valet bargains (SIX BUCKS!) with nearby Icehouse. Find Buddha on the web here. They just opened up last autumn, and have already been making the rounds in local food features. Reservations are suggested, but we stepped in to a fairly quiet restaurant Saturday night at prime time.
Pass through Buddha's blaze orange, warehouse-style front doors and into a ritzy alternate reality. The bar is bedecked with its own pagoda-style sub-ceiling, with an eerie blue from above light giving it a sort of personal sunset. Wall paintings are shunned for TV screens with shifting nature scenes, and of course Buddha heads are scattered on shelves throughout. This is, at its very least, a fitting picture of "Asian fusion."
From our two-person booth against the 26th Street window, we got a view of the action without sacrificing privacy. The nook-like booths are tucked against the window with drapes tied open on each side of the entry. Unfortunately, no amount of finagling could free them (not that I tried or anything). Even if you could close them, the veils are too thin to conceal (not that I looked through them or anything).
We kicked off with Sake drinks. My tyku silver was a $7 double-shot of straight liquor, and did little to please. My wife enjoyed her tyku coconut, but I took a sip and just tasted coconut water. This was our meal's only smudge, though, and our pot stickers stepped up and rubbed it clean.
These porky little wonders outshone the rubbery schlock I'm accustomed to. While the art of cutting a pot sticker usually feels more like beheading it with a blunt axe, Buddha's were cleaved with little effort and virtually no mess. The sprinkled fruit and paired slaw added a previously uncharted dimension to what I used to think was a simple dish. I don't know if I can think of pot stickers the same way again.
For entrees, my wife ordered a Mongolian beef tenderloin and I called for a bad karma roll. How could I resist? It was the first time I would have sushi without that sticky rice barrier, and it had some of my favorite words under its name: Jalapeno! Cream cheese! Avocado! Spicy tuna AND spicy sauce! Guys -- CREAM CHEESE!
If the insertion of cream cheese is their definition of "fusion," give me a seat on that bandwagon. In fact, I'll take a row to myself.
The rolls, well-balanced and delectable, under-delivered on its name with too many fire extinguishers and too little fire. Its flavor foundation was a foolproof one I've come to trust, and I was through my roll in minutes. I found this crunchy exterior preferable to the rice walls, in texture and toughness alike. Toughness is key when you handle chopsticks like I do.
Mmm, MMM, MMM! but I'm still kind of let down by its lack of kick. Listen, if I'm about to eat some bad karma ... I mean, if I know I'm going to get hit by a bus three years from now because I shoved an old lady out of her spot in the checkout line, I'm going to make sure she falls on her ass and I get a good YouTube clip out of it. That's all I'm saying. Bad karma should harm. This didn't.
They do sell a dynamite roll, however, so I recommend you just buy the dynamite roll if it's dynamite you want.
My wife gushed about the crispiness and superior quality presented by the vegetables on her tenderloin versus the Asian we typically pick up, but she didn't have much to say about the baby corn cobs because I ate all of those. The meat was tender and much more plentiful than what you'd get from a take-out box. The pieces were larger too. This was beef with vegetables, not the other way around.
Sake aside, this meal was something I would pay $42 again without a second thought. I had a Groupon voucher, which made me feel like I was knocking a bank over. We might have even ordered dessert, had Glam Doll Donuts not been staring at us all evening through the window. We paid up and wandered out.
I can't compare my experience at Buddha to anything I've had recently because there just aren't many places you can stare off into an indoor sunset while the Backstreet Boys play over the speakers. They take the Asian and the fusion very seriously. You might like it. You might love it. You might love it more than reading Grantland in your boxer briefs. Do you, boo. At the very least, I can say you won't regret squeezing back into your Levi's for a dinner at Buddha.