That's right, before becoming the current home of the 16-foot Buddha that "floats" on a koi pond, Tao was originally a 19th century stable for Anderson Cooper's ancestors, the Vanderbilts. It was also renovated as a balconied cinema, before transforming into the present Asian wonderland.
Upon entering, you are literally instantly swept to a fantasy world that seems miles from the horns just outside on 58th street. In terms of ambiance, it would be difficult to find a more awe-inspiring culinary gallery. Our lunch was exceptionally delicious, as well.
Peking duck spring rolls drizzled with Hoisin sauce. The sweet potato and garlic of the Hoisin rounded out the tender and savory duck to such perfection, you don't even really need the mustard dipping sauce.
At our server's recommendation, we ordered the satay of Chilean sea bass on grilled asparagus. Never before has grilled sea bass given me goosebumps, and I need a bottle of the miso glaze in my refrigerator at all times.
The steamed vegetable dumplings were better than most, and certainly tastier than any yasai gyoza I have tried anywhere. Here, Tao successfully achieves a fresh garden filling with plump, al dente dumpling around a crispy cucumber salad.
Lobster wontons in shitake ginger broth.
Wok-seared New York Sirloin.
Kieran (one of the few people in my life who actually craves fine Chinese cuisine and refuses to order take-out) gave the Kung Pao chicken his stamp of approval. I tasted this classic Szechuan dish, and would certainly have to agree... the chicken was exceptionally plump and juicy.
Shanghai scallion beef.
The only component of our meal that left us wanting, though not horribly dissatisfied, was in the dessert department. The tempura banana was actually quite delicious, though sitting on a bed of what tasted like instant pudding. The other two desserts we tried, a parfait and a fresh fruit sorbet, quite honestly sent me reminiscing about the cafeterias I used to love with my grandparents. For such a magical setting with such well-executed dishes from all over Asia, the dessert was a bit of a let down. In lieu of a dessert, I'd recommend trying one of Tao's cocktails. The ruby red dragon was particularly delicious (Finlandia grapefruit, yuzu citrus, a dash of pomegranate, garnished with a candied orange twist.) Certainly enjoy the chocolate fortune cookies with PG13 messages inside (you'll see what I mean...)
This post would not honestly be complete without sharing what was perhaps the most intriguing facet of the breathtaking decor...
Be extremely careful in the Men's room as the lights turn on with a motion sensor... If you have trouble relieving yourself at an open stall, try peeing on a floor-to-ceiling waterfall with backlights that flash at you as you unzip your britches. Thank goodness it was a full wall, because it startled me so abruptly that I... well, you get the idea. And I simply couldn't stop running the water in the open-sided sink that poured like a small fountain into a hole in the floor. Tao undoubtedly wins the award for coolest bathroom... ever...
After settling the (very reasonable) bill, we felt as though we had just left the World Showcase at Disney's Epcot Center. And once the rice started expanding in our stomachs (as it inevitably does), we needed to walk off a few calories. I cannot more highly recommend a better post-Tao stroll than through the FAO Schwarz Manhattan megastore... We entered the famous giant, and Kieran yelped, "it's like were in Suri Cruise's bedroom!"
Kieran soft-shoed a riveting rendition of "Heart & Soul" on the "Big" Piano.
Matty was attacked by a Lego Chewbacca.
The store is literally three floors of rooms of toys connected by hallways of stuffed animals and dolls.
Matty and Kieran in the Clifford treehouse.
Though we had no energy left to ice skate ourselves, we concluded the afternoon in schadenfreude watching people fall at Wollman Rink in Central Park (click on the picture to make it larger...I count three skaters flat on the ice, and one on her way down near the bottom right!) Talk about a perfect New York day...