By: Stacey Viera
I had a great impression of Buddha Bar from the moment I walked in. I was seeing red – literally – my favorite color. The color red is said to stimulate appetite, and I was immediately hungry for more.
The grand space is luxuriously appointed with comfortable settees grouped in sitting areas, gigantic red and black chandeliers and an impressive bar area.
But setting is secondary (for me, anyway) to the food. At a lunch for food writers, Executive Chef Gregg Fortunato – who moved to D.C. to open Buddha Bar with four other colleagues from Las Vegas – previewed his new lunch menu, served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served nightly at 5:30.
The chef sent out a couple of delicious rolls, and I enjoyed the shrimp tempura roll. I didn’t get a taste of the Buddha Bar Roll, but the salmon, yellowtail, spicy tuna and snow crab wrapped in fresh cucumber creation was a hit with the other writers. The beef satay with Thai basil crème sauce was a well-seasoned treat.
Buddha Bar also uses a delicious soy sauce that is Japanese, not of Chinese origin, Fortunato noted, so it’s sweeter than the brand you’ll typically find at other establishments. (Or in my refrigerator.) Buddha Bar sources Yamasa from purveyors of Japanese foods, so look for it in specialty stores and let us know if you find it in D.C.
For a main course, I opted for a light Green Papaya Salad with Duck, which was much larger than I had imagined, and the duck was succulent. Priced at $14, it’s affordable and can feed you twice. Share a roll with a lunch companion, enjoy half of an entrée salad and take the rest home for dinner. Delicious. Healthy. Filling. Happiness. Or since it’s Buddha Bar, I should say zen.
What’s the secret to delicious duck? Fortunato said, “Duck skin is very thick. If you cook it like a chicken, all of the fat won’t get cooked off. We cure it in sugar, salt and five spices for about a day. Then hang it in the walk-in [refrigerator] and all the juice drips off.” It’s important to remove the fat and rinse the salt/sugar/spice mixture so that the end result isn’t too salty. To finish it off, Fortunato marinades the duck meat in a soy-and-orange sauce for a day before it’s ready to serve.
Other favorites around the table were the Korean BBQ Sandwich, Kobe Beef Sliders, and Japanese Sea Bass Tacos.
One item to note is that the lights were a tad dim for lunchtime. As my great-grandmother once proclaimed to a restaurateur at dinner one evening, “I like to eat in the light and sleep in the dark!”
Of course, once the 80-seat outdoor patio opens later this year, diners can enjoy all of the fresh air and natural light they want.
Since the answer to “Would you like to try dessert?” should NEVER be “no,” I decided to get something I wouldn’t typically order. Chilled mango soup. It was served with a dollop of sorbet. After a couple of bites, I declared the dessert a “smoothie in a bowl,” and couldn’t wait to find out what the chef did to make such a tasty soup. It seems that mango soup is just as easy to make as a smoothie and contains reasonably nutritious elements: coconut puree, mango puree and simple syrup.
One of my mottos is, “It ain’t dessert without chocolate,” and Tammy saved the day, sharing one of her chocolate sesame bars served with coconut sorbet. It tasted kind of like a Kit Kat Bar, which surprised me because I don’t usually like sesame. But if I’ve learned anything by writing this column – and I hope that you’re getting the message, Dear Reader – it’s that making flavors in a dish work is all about the chef and how he uses his skills to present the ingredients.
A quick walk from Judiciary Square or an inexpensive cab ride from downtown or Capitol Hill, get to 455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, to check out the Buddha Bar lunch menu. Sneak away from the office to find your “moment of zen.”