Formerly know as Buddha Bar, this restaurant is a temple of excess. Statues line the cylindrical entrance tunnel. A glass-encased smoking room spares puffers from having to walk outside. Patrons at semiprivate tables can gaze at a carp pond through glass flooring. A giant skylight illuminates the center atrium. Nothing moderate here. Nothing all that original, either. The cocktail menu lists only too-sweet drinks; we tried four concoctions, each yielding little more than a sugar rush. The venue is best known for its CD mixes—there are numerous compilations. As a nightclub party spot, Buddha Bar succeeds on many levels. It’s visually stimulating, very Vegas, and the lounge scene bustles. Feasting on the Pan-Asian menu, however, requires patience. The entrees are all “family-style” and come out whenever they are ready—something the servers explain, apologetically, when you order. Chefs Keith Matsuoka and A.J. Pike borrow liberally from every country between India and Japan, and they sauce plates heavily. Shrimp dumplings, for example, were nearly drowned in a brown, lobster-based shiitake mushroom gravy. A toro tartare with mountain-yam sauce was essentially a martini glass filled with a mound of raw, fatty tuna belly that looked like pureed baby food—with a dollop of mediocre caviar (black, brittle, one-dimensional), all of which sunk into the soy-sauce base as soon as the fork touched the dish. Even if it were magnificent, it would have been overpriced at $22. The main courses sound familiar but typically offer an unusual twist—miso sablefish instead of Nobu’s famous black cod in miso, and a pork chop made from kurobuta pig. The highlight of both the roasted chicken and the Chinese duck was great, crispy skin, though the duck meat was gray and dry. Many dishes weigh in on the small side. The safest plan is to order sushi. The offerings are generally rote—the usual nigiri, sashimi and maki—but a few fancy rolls showed some spark. I liked the BBQ Chilean Sea Bass roll filled with tasty grilled fish and a touch of spicy barbecue sauce. Ultimately, just because there’s food doesn’t mean it should be eaten.
|Venue name:||Ajna Bar (CLOSED)|
25 Little W 12th St
|Cross street:||between Ninth Ave and Washington St|
|Opening hours:||Daily 6pm–4am|
|Transport:||Subway: A, C, E to 14th St; L to Eighth Ave|
|Price:||Average main course: $35. AmEx, MC, V|
|Do you own this business?|