First Bite: Buddachen
A Brookline newbie aims for pan-Asian gloss, but ends up muddled instead.
For foodies, the words “ultra-trendy,” “Asian,” and “fusion” are never a welcome grouping. See them on a restaurant’s website, and one’s heart sinks with the near-certain knowledge that the owners’ ambitions go well beyond the food.
And so it goes with Buddachen, which replaces Jae’s Café in Coolidge Corner. It’s still partly owned by Jae Chung, who once oversaw a mini empire of area restaurants, but who has since scaled back to a trio of spots here and in the Berkshires.
That Chung chose to rebrand this place seems a tacit acknowledgment that the old Jae’s formula of pad thai, sushi, and giant fish tanks has gone the way of crème brûlée. But that news doesn’t seem to have made it to Buddachen’s kitchen, which casts a wide net across Asia without offering enough novelty or authenticity to draw diners away from, say, Ginger Park.
An overly mayonnaise-laden spicy tuna-avocado salad, for example, is served on a mound of shredded daikon that’s, yes, lit from beneath by a color-changing LED light. A grilled salmon entrée comes with three sauces — miso, teriyaki, and mango salsa — none memorable. The spicy basil beef has the spongy texture of overmarinated meat and a too-thick sauce that lacks the heady aromatics of the best Thai food.
What Buddachen does offer is tasty sushi rolls and pad thai — the things that Jae’s always did well. It also features a stunning dining room, which Chung and partner Shun Li Chen have dolled up with white banquettes, vermilion panels, and a giant Buddha statue. It’s worthy of a restaurant hot spot. (Miami’s Hakkasan comes to mind, as does Philadelphia’s Buddakan — whose parent company, incidentally, filed a claim against Buddachen for trademark infringement in March.) Instead, -Buddachen is filled with an afterwork crowd and families coming in after synagogue.
If only the kitchen would focus on one thing, and get it right. Brookline could use an upscale, artful Chinese or Korean restaurant to draw a crowd from beyond the immediate area. This room — and this neighborhood — deserves better.
1223 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-739-0000, buddachen.com.