42 East 58th Street
New York, NY 10022-1910
Recently, I took a little trip up to New York City to catch up with old friends and, quite honestly, just go for the hell of it because it had been a while. The one thing that I had forgotten in the two and a half years since I was last in New York was the energy of the city that you don’t find in Washington, D.C. or most other metropolitan areas. It practically hit me in the face the moment I walked out of Penn Station.
I spent the weekend doing mainly touristy things such as Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, checked out Ground Zero and the building of the Freedom Tower, and roamed around the East and West Villages. But of course the highlight of any trip to NYC is the food – and there was plenty of it this weekend.
Since I hadn’t seen a bunch of New Yorker friends in a while, I organized a dinner for us all. At the suggestion of my one college buddy, we made our way to Tao Restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Tao, like New York City in general, is pretty much what you’d expect from a trendy NYC restaurant on a Friday night: noisy, busy, vibrant, pretentious, and super gaudy, but fun nonetheless. As my one friend who has lived in NYC for the past five years put it – “This place is so New York” with a little tone of “I would probably never come here in general” thrown in, kind of like how I can’t remember the last time I was in a Smithsonian museum even though I’ve been in D.C. for years.
There are a few things you should know about places like Tao before I continue. They’re expensive and regardless if you have a reservation, there will be a wait (especially on a Friday night). And even more so at this place because of the popularity (sightings of Jay-Z, Madonna, etc and a feature in Sex and the City – a fact I found out AFTER I had left NYC, so don’t go thinking Sex and the City is any draw for me). I should also note that I sadly was not able to get any good pictures because my new phone’s case was covering the flash so none of the pics would show up. The website has plenty in its gallery however.
So yeah, we had a 9:15 reservation; we were seated around 9:45-10:00 with the maitre d’ telling me, “Just a couple more minutes” every time I asked how much longer. And the bar waiting area is not nearly big enough to hold all of the people waiting to get a table along with the folks just trying to grab a drink. So be prepared to do a little bumping. Our buzzer went off just as we were contemplating going somewhere else.
The main dining area a Tao is pretty expansive, but still packed so that there was probably only a foot between chairs and tables for one to squeeze through. And overlooking the entire place is a GIGANTIC (and I emphasis that word) Buddha, which I’ll have to admit was pretty impressive, despite being as Las Vegas showy as it was.
The Tao menu isn’t huge, but hits all the typical Asian food types from sushi to noodles. With a group our size we decided to do it sort of family style and order several things to share. Our waitress was very helpful telling us her favorite recommendations, and her suggestions were excellent. Considering the hysteria in the place, the service was remarkably quick with the food coming out within a few minutes of us ordering our first round of appetizers.
The food at Tao is excellent; no doubt about it. I’m going to make your life easier and just list out what we ate and give a quick impression.
Peking Duck Spring Roll – I love Peking duck, so yes I loved this. The order came with 3 large duck spring rolls and the duck was perfectly fatty and savory. The one thing I wish was that the duck skin inside would have been a little crispier. Same goes for the egg roll wrap itself – I suspect they were trying to make make the wrap like a Peking duck pancake, but it didn’t quite work.
Pork Potstickers – these also were excellent, and considered by most at the table the best appetizer of the bunch. They were larger than your typical gyoza, stuffed with a generous portion of salty, tender pork inside.
Spicy Tuna Tartar on Crispy Rice – what makes this more than just what amounted to a tuna sushi roll was the rice. It was toasted giving it a delicious flavor and crunch.
Shrimp Pad Thai noodles – Not too bad, but not anything that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
Crispy Orange Chicken – same with the Pad Thai. If you order it, you won’t be disappointed, but it’s not anything that is stand out.
Satay of Chilean Sea Bass with Wok Asparagus – now THIS was standout – the fish was cooked to perfection, super-flavorful and melted in your mouth. The side of asparagus that came with it was actually not needed, but I do like a little crunch with my dishes so it worked.
Wasabi-crusted Filet with Tempura Onion Rings – another standout. The filet was very good, and in most cases I would have said it was excellent but nothing special. What made it special? That wasabi crust was awesome – totally different, and gave the meat a real kick.
So food wise, everything was pretty amazing. The plates came out in very easily sharable portions; I’m not sure if that’s how they are normally served or if our waitress was savvy enough to have the kitchen make it that way knowing we were all sharing from the start.
The one thing I could have done without were the the guys walking around banging drums next to us while we ate. Totally unnecessary, really annoying, and as my one friend put it “They’re not even beating the drum to the beat of the music!”. Also, the bathroom was a little weird. I’m putting this in writing because my other male friends disagree. Personally I don’t like having to urinate into a trough that lights up when you walk up to it, with a waterfall raining in front of you into the trough, while a bathroom attendant stands two feet away from you ready to pounce for a tip. Maybe my friends have been in NYC too long because one of them said “What about it? It was just a urinal.”
All in all though, great place for an excellent meal, a fun vibe if you’re willing to deal with the noise and wait, and very good service amid the chaos in the venue. Food: A- Overall: B+ (because of that drummer banging away)