The Slender Buddha

7 Sep

Buddha BBEEQ
1750 Second Ave
New York, NY

Zio was grumpy. He had a six am wake up call courtesy of the newest tenant in his Connecticut refuge, his three-year old grandson. And a morning watching Noggin with little Sammy just added a layer of lethargy to his already foul demeanor. But despite the indignities he endures on a daily basis, his dedication to the cause was too great to let his hardships stop him from the job at hand. Ever since the Uncle George’s debacle many years ago, Zio, when his turn arose, openly sought assistance in picking an appropriately grimy, but authentic eating establishment for our group. Feeling confident, maybe even a little cocky, he tackled his most recent assignment pretty much on his own.

After doing his research, he settled on an Asian-themed barbecue place in the unlikely, for our group, neighborhood of the Upper East Side.  According to all internet accounts, Buddha Bbeeq was “good for groups,” but upon entering, the only groups the tiny place could be good for were groups of no more than two. Still, luck was on our side and a couple agreed to move to another table so we could squeeze together a table for four with a smaller table fitting the six of us into the too cozy confines.

Good for groups?

Though for Gerry, cozy was a codeword for torturous. In an effort to combat an impending midlife crisis, Gerry solicited the aide of his football-playing son’s personal trainer to reclaim a body ravaged by a variety of vices including cheap beer, vodka, and deep fried chitterlings. To his credit, for a man past his prime, the trainer was working miracles on him. But it seems that on the day we were to meet, he and Mike from Yonkers, who inserted himself as Gerry’s workout partner, were egged on by said sadistic trainer to don boxing gloves and put on a poor man’s “Fight Club” exhibition. The result was an obviously lucky punch by Mike from Yonkers that landed just inside the chest protection gear and finding one of Gerry’s ribs. The doctor’s diagnosis was vague, but Gerry swallowed some codeine-laced Tylenol and showing his grit, joined us never complaining about the tight seating. And what made it worse for Gerry, I’m sure, was seeing Mike from Yonkers bounding in, unscathed from their battle and with barely a nod of remorse for the damage he inflicted.

In the takeout and quick-turnover haven of the Upper East Side, the servers at Buddha Bbeeq were not used to the dallying of our group and their consternation was obvious. In an effort to ease their anxieties, Zio ordered us a few of the restaurant’s smaller dishes including as the menu proclaimed “tasty twists on the ever popular favorite” Japanese sushi rolls. Instead of traditional Japanese sushi, the rolls were prepared “Korean-style” stuffed with barbecued beef, ham and egg, and shrimp salad. They were substantial, but lacking in distinction and the scallion pancakes and dumplings we sampled, including one with beef and kimchee, suffered from the same dilemma.

The view from Buddha Bbeeq.*

The bbeq plates offered a variety of globe-trotting Asian styles including the restaurant’s obvious slant, Korean, along with a Thai red curry, teriyaki, Vietnamese lemongrass, and a Hawaiian version “sweetened with pineapple juice” which no one dared order. Rick and Mike from Yonkers, knowing that it’s always best to stick to the closest possible ethnic origins of the restaurant, ordered the “K” bbeeq, Korean barbecue beef over rice while Zio and Eugene were a bit more adventurous trying the peanut lime version, beef for Zio, chicken for Eugene, that came with a thickened unsightly sauce that drenched their respective meats.

Beef rice bowl

I bypassed the barbecue and like Rick and Mike went on the Korean theme with the Korean rice bowl, also known in Korean restaurants as “bim bam bap,” but instead of beef opted for chicken, while Gerry, for possibly the first time ever, admitted that he “wasn’t really very hungry,” and deferred his ordering to me. Thinking a spicy dish would distract him from his throbbing ribs, I ordered him the chili peanut noodles with shrimp.

When the food arrived, no one complained.  The portions were large and the meals somewhat flavorful, but, judging from Eugene’s uncharacteristic silence after sampling his dish, we knew our high standards had not been met. In my experience, any efforts at melding various ethnic styles usually results in a watered down version of the original. And that was the case at Buddha BBeeq; the Korean dishes were good, but not as good as you would find in a decent Korean restaurant while the Thai and Vietnamese, again, passable but not nearly at the quality those particular ethnic restaurants usually offer. The best you could say about Buddha BBeeq was that it offered solid Upper East Side takeout. And despite the disappointment, Zio was almost cheerful knowing that, spending a solitary night in his Astoria love nest, he would not have to endure an early morning marathon of “Go Gabba Gabba” and “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”.

Zio’s nightmare

*Buddha Bbeeq survives despite the continuous presence of the Second Avenue subway construction project just outside their restaurant.

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