Critic’s Notebook: Happy Birthday, Buddakan!

When I realized that Buddakan turned 10 this month, the first thing I felt was old. How can a whole decade have passed since the Angry Lobster IV came into my life? The second thing I felt was a profound sense of gratitude for Stephen Starr. Buddakan set a new standard in Philadelphia. It gave the city a truly hip restaurant where visiting celebrities didn’t even seem out of place. It dared other restaurateurs to go big. Since 1998, Buddakan has maintained its glamorous vibe — even if it’s ribbed in serious food circles for its predictability. (The menu has changed very little and the original executive chef, Scott Swiderski, still helms the kitchen.)

While my visits to Buddakan might be rare, there are times when it’s the perfect spot: a girl’s night out, a big promotion, a date who is more into fun than food. There’s little doubt in my mind that without Buddakan, we wouldn’t have the many glitzy restaurants we enjoy now. Let’s not forget who brought Jose Garces and Bryan Sikora to this town.

As a foodie, Starr restaurants aren’t the places I visit for culinary enlightenment. But sometimes I want a different type of Enlightenment, the kind that’s made of tequila and infused with cucumber and chili at Buddakan’s bar.

Happy birthday, Buddakan! I hope you never change.

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