Is Tenderloin Hotspot Cooling Down?
UPDATE 05/03/2010: This place closed on 4/29 because of declining business.)
601 Eddy St., San Francisco (Inside the Phoenix Hotel)
Tenderloin/Civic Center neighborhood
Dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30–10 p.m. (until 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday)
Reservation, credit cards accepted
When I lived in Manhattan, hot restaurants lasted for just a few months before another new one came along and got featured on “Sex and The City.” In San Francisco, the turnover isn’t that obvious but it can still happen with new restaurants opening all the time.
So when does a hot spot lose its luster? For Bambuddha Lounge, the too-hip-to-be-near-anything-chic restaurant and club, the time may be arriving soon if not already knocking on the door.
I recently revisited the 4-year-old Bambuddha Lounge with my friend Stella because we had tickets to the Broadway show Avenue Q at the Orpheum Theatre. There are very limited dining options near the Civic Center, so I suggested Bambuddha Lounge since it’s just four blocks north of the theatre.
The restaurant is the type that believes it’s so hip that it doesn’t even have its name on the door. When you walk up to the entrance at the Phoenix Hotel, all it says at the top is “Restaurant.”
Stella and I were early for our reservations, so we cozied up to the bar for a couple of drinks. The water feature against the wall of the bar gave off a distinct chlorine smell, which didn’t add to the ambiance. In fact, because we were early, the stark sunlight of an early San Francisco summer evening made the restaurant’s interiors appear stark and dated. I began to feel like I was inside a motel instead of a hip lounge. Mood lighting was definitely in order.
Our drinks were just as tired. I ordered a Lychee Martini that had too much lychee syrup and Stella ordered a Mango Mojito that looked pretty but didn’t have any taste of mango.
After we were seated at our table, we began to study the pan-Asian menu, which is primarily influenced by Filipino, Thai and Indonesian cooking styles. The menu under Chef Jessica Gorin had a mix of small and large plates. Feeling adventurous, Stella and I mostly focused on small plates so that we could try a variety of dishes.
SIDE NOTE: Our waiter was especially patient when it came time for me to order a wine with my dinner. Because we primarily ordered seafood and was eating in a mostly Asian restaurant, I was looking for a white wine. I would say I tried probably three different white wines by the glass before I gave up, feeling exasperated, and ended up with a red wine. Like I said, the waiter was especially patient and was very willing to give me sips of each wine so I could make my selection. I give him major props for that. I do not give props, however, to the wine list that featured very weak and immature white wines. The red wine I ended up with was sufficient for dinner but nothing noteworthy.
On to the plates: First up was the Peekytoe Crab salad ($12) with an English pea-cilantro puree with wasabi tobiko and chive blossoms. The crab salad had this unusually pale coloring, but the flavor and taste overall was pleasant. The subtle flavors of the crab were brightened by the citrus notes in the pea and cilantro puree. The chive blossoms on top also added a nice texture to the overall dish.
Then came the Chilled Avocado Soup ($8) topped with grilled prawns and drizzled with green papaya and herb oil. If I were Tom Colicchio of Top Chef, I would call this dish “disgusting.” But I can’t pull off Colicchio, and I do not want to shave my head just to call a dish disgusting. All I can say was that this was “disappointing.” The avocado soup lacked flavor and I just felt like I was eating bland pureed guacamole. The only saving grace was the grilled prawns, which added the taste of caramelized shrimp. Really, how wrong can you go with grilled fresh shrimp? If they had chopped up the shrimp and spread it around the soup, then maybe the bland avocado soup wouldn’t have been so offensive to me.
Next up was the Ma Po Duck Salad, which came out looking like a fall “horn of plenty.” The cubed duck meat looked like it was pouring out of this head of radicchio. The meat itself was tender with the traditional Asian flavors of a light hoisin base, but the presentation looked like the duck threw up on the plate. (I had so many “The Next Food Network Star” and “Top Chef” judges’ table flashbacks during this meal, it just wasn’t even funny.)
Our last dish of the evening was the Coconut-Crusted Day Boat Scallops ($22) with summer sweet white corn, mushrooms, and green chilies in a caramelized coconut reduction. Just like grilled shrimp, you can’t go wrong with scallops. They were tasty and filling, and the coconut and corn base was a nice compliment. I felt the coconut shavings used to encrust the scallops were a tad over the top and really wasn’t necessary.
As Stella and I went on with our meal, the restaurant began to fill up and there were a couple of “beautiful people” to check out. (They were having drinks outside in the poolside seating.) I told Stella that during the summer All-Star baseball game in San Francisco, Yankees Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez hosted a private party at Bambuddha Lounge. So apparently Bambuddha Lounge can still draw the big names for private events and parties, but I have to wonder if the food can keep them satisfied like the big belly Buddha?
All I can say about Bambuddha Lounge is that it was convenient to the Orpheum and we were able to have dinner and get seated at the theatre in time for the opening number. Avenue Q was the highlight of the evening.
Single guy rating: 2 stars (go for the eye candy while it lasts)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
Friday, September 14, 2007
Is Tenderloin Hotspot Cooling Down?