By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Employing Buddha to drive nightclub adrenaline is odd when you think about it. There are bars named after this enlightened fellow (here there was Buddha Bar before it went Bali Bar before it went bust), and Buddha busts and figures inexplicably fill nightclub alcoves, dugouts and pedestals. At Sambuca Uptown, there's a giggling Buddha as well as a Buddha that sits in deep repose atop a privacy booth upholstered in leather, secluded by sheers and equipped with conveniences like personal volume controls to modulate the piped-in sounds--gentle ones judging by the Annie Lennox that seemed to play in perpetuity. These are dens of debauchery, or at least one would hope they are. Drag an open palm over the leather and imagine the tales that have played out here--stories of ribald gripping, missing skivvies and shameless salivating all done up to a soundtrack of wheezing hums. Somehow Buddha has evolved into the teat of hipness, a deep and complex spiritual icon boiled down to the shallowest of nightclub gilt. This is odd, especially when history offers up such worthy alternatives as Cleopatra and Heidi Fleiss.
Not that there is anything wrong with Buddha posing as a trendy nightclub prop, though one gets wistful for the daring entrepreneur who might give the task to Confucius, or even Mohammad. But it's hard to dismiss the fact that Buddha steered clear of the sensual indulgence that is the mother's milk of Dallas night crawling. According to Karen Armstrong's biography of Buddha, the enlightened one saw life as nothing but a grim cycle of suffering, a process that begins with trauma of birth and proceeds inexorably to "aging, illness, death, sorrow and corruption." This is not the mind-set that those with their Diane vonFurstenbergs reeking of Porsche leather yearn to embrace. This isn't to say Buddha didn't party, but he obsessed over the repellent side of fun. Armstrong recounts:
That night, he woke to find that the minstrels and dancers who had been entertaining him had fallen asleep. All around his couch, beautiful women lay in disarray: "Some with their bodies slick with phlegm and spittle; others were grinding their teeth, and muttering and talking incoherently in their sleep; others lay with their mouths wide open."
Yet there is an upside to the repellent side of pleasure, and Sambuca Uptown is the place to find it. For those whose jaws grow slack, there is cuisine with which to fill the void--delicious cuisine, dashing in its simplicity. This is not a menu with an ethnic or planetary theme buzzing through it, but one with familiarity twisted just enough to keep the incoherent muttering at bay.
What's more ubiquitously dull and comforting than tortilla soup? (Calamari is, but let's start with the soup.) Most tortilla soup is a ponderous swill of mushy tortilla strips, overcooked chicken and tortured vegetables suffering in a broth as frighteningly drab as the alcoholic beverage code.
Not so here. A simple white bowl arrives with a crown of bleached chicken shingled with tortilla strips interlaced with cheese shreds. The thick ochre broth is swirled around the crown from a pitcher spout, ensuring those tortilla strips will be crunched instead of slurped. It's rich and creamy and ripping with spice that is pulled into balance just as the grainy texture settles into the finish.
Calamari is not as successful. Body cavity rings, tentacles and peppers are corseted in a light batter. Though tender, chewy and topped with shreds of Reggiano Parmigiano cheese, the result is loose and greasy, with the flimsy sheath slipping off with the slightest nudge. It comes with two sauces for dipping: a diablo sauce and a riveting lemon aioli. Both harbor astonishing complexity and balance--a pity this beast didn't wear them well.
It's fitting that a place outfitted with gauzy sheers, velvet drapes and ceilings plush with gold fabric rippling with pleats would turn surf 'n' turf into lingerie. It arrives on a narrow platter with rosy strips of lacy beef lipping creamy orange sheets of yellowfin tuna gauze, the latter looking like shaved melon. Lemon zest curved over the beef, while orange zest looped over the tuna. Surf 'n' turf carpaccio is an ingenious invention when you think about it, something that might even shove the Buddha off his grim cycle of despair. The meat is so delicate it evaporates on the tongue, while the zest coils fill in the gaps with a velvety acidic pinch.
Imagine a place like this serving breakfast, or brunch as it's called at places with mandatory valet parking. Imagine that ceviche, served in a martini glass, is one of the offerings. Admittedly, lime-cooked fish in a martini vessel might be appalling after a night of hard clubbing. But it's beautiful: shrimp, crab shreds, tomato flecks, pepper, cucumber and red onion all gently spun into a clean, brisk peak that rises above the glass rim in supple freshness. The seafood is firm, briny and chewy. It doesn't bounce the jaws like those creepy little shrimp coils that are too cooked or too freezer burned or too whatever it is that makes them seem like they were cooked up in a Firestone lab.