Although I would never consider Buddha Bar a houndworthy restaurant, I had the occasion to dine there last Sunday night (7:30 pm) on the insistence of a trend-conscious friend. In short, don't waste your time.
First, the reception. Apparently a reservations-only policy (we had one). There is someone patroling the door making sure of your rez. Pretentious beyond belief when you walk in and see dozens of empty tables.
At the host stand, we were received by the rudest maitre d' I ever dealt with. A short man with slick white hair, receding hairline, and a white-haired beard (dead ringer for Burt Wolf, public television food program host). He directs us Mengele-style to the lounge to wait for the 2 others in our party. We accepted that for 2 minutes and asked another host to seat us at a table. He did.
We sit & order a bottle of Pellegrino. A few minutes pass. Maitre d' arrives at our table and asks whether our friends are coming.
Yes, we say, they're down the block.
He says, "Well, you were incorrectly sat and we cannot have you here. I have full parties waiting for tables." We peer over to the host stand to see no full party waiting. "You will have to get up now and wait in the lounge until they arrive."
My girlfriend answers, "They'll be here in 5 minutes."
He responds, "Well, if they're not here in 5 minutes, you'll have to sit in the lounge." He turns to leave.
"If they're not here in 5 minutes, we'll leave," my girlfriend answers.
He turns and snaps, "Well, with that attitude, you may as well leave now."
What nerve! We were so dying to leave, but we resisted for the sake of our trendy friend.
Second, the decor. The use of Buddha as a decorative element in such a crass commercial, insensitive, non-spiritual manner must be offensive to practicing Buddhists. In my travels in Buddhist countries, Buddha statutes like the ones on display at BB are only found in temples and not meant to messed with. It doesn't seem right at BB. For contrast, it would surely be offensive to Christians if images of Jesus were hanging out of every corner with techno blaring.
Fluorescent lighting from an attached building overhead streams though the glass roof and into the room, killing the dimly lit vibe BB is striving for. Also, our table was near an air conditioning duct and we were freezing. Our request to move was honored once they couldn't remedy the situation, much to the consternation of the maitre d'.
Third, the food. Save your time and money and go to a real Southeast Asian restaurant or a high-quality Western-owned spot like Fatty Crab. Had the coconut chicken soup (tom ka gai) and sablefish, others had branzino. Decent cuts of fresh fish, but not enough to overcome the bad vibe that preceded it.
Desserts were as formulaic as possible: creme brulee, chocolate cake, you know the deal.
I do have to say, however, that our servers were gracious and effective, though a French managerial guy had very little to tell us about the very short sake list aside from pushing the conspicuously high-priced bottles
We'll see if this place survives on its second try in NYC.