Drove me mad, that dark corner. Since Azia left its site at 26th & Nicollet, Eat Street’s primo real estate stood empty. At last, the lights are on again and the bar is pouring the kind of cocktails that drive trendsters to tweeting. The spiffed-till-shiny room, with glam island bar front-and-center, sets it apart from the many other Asian kitchens within reach of a chopstick up and down the avenue. Add DJs spinning tunes on weekend evenings, and you’re assured a see-and-be-seen scene. Oh, and there’s food.
Welcome to Eat Street Buddha Kitchen & Lounge.
The catchy list of cocktails ($10 range) lean to the sweet and fruity side of the palate (James Bond might grimace). I slowly savored the swank Fashioned in Fig, where bourbon and bitters mingle with muddled figs and a cherry-maple gastrique. The Hello Kitty spotlights prickly pear-infused pisco sour partnered with pineapple-coconut rum. Or go for the blueberry-Meyer lemon number, spiked with a splash of gin — stars among those we sipped.
The raw bar is a veritable Tiffany’s of shellfish: lobster claws, crab claws, oysters divided by pedigree, shrimp the size of a house pet. Lots of the usual sushi, sashimi and rolls, too. Instead, we opted to test the dishes that require a stove and a recipe. Buddha’s no-surprise list of small plates ($9 range) includes lots of apps for sharing. Potstickers, within their fried-noodle jackets, held morsels of minced pork sweetened with dried fruit, a modest tiptoe into fusion cooking sharpened by a garnish of radicchio slaw. Satay skewers of tender grilled chicken breast, moistened by a mild and sweet coconut curry marinade, tasted brighter after a swab in their chili-kissed peanut sauce. Both hew the party line: neither threatening nor exciting, but classic.
Next, we flipped to the wok listings ($14–$18) for a curry starring braised short ribs, along with edamame, pickled carrots, onions and pea tendrils, all tangled in skinny Singapore noodles. The yellow coconut curry binding them seemed geared to sooth suspicious Minnesotans rather than deliver a signature of Southeast Asia.
Same with the curry chosen from the list of entrees ($24–$30), which also includes lots of seafood: miso-glazed halibut with orange-glazed noodles; honey-walnut prawns; scallops with wok-tossed fingerlings, etc. The shellfish curry plucked ideally-fresh tidbits from the raw bar: diver scallop, jumbo prawn, sweet hunk of lobster, and a couple of mussels (as well as an abundance of empty shells), all well-timed and tender, backed by bits of bok choy and shiitakes in another mellow and sweetish sauce — this time, coconut curry.
Bottom line: the menu and its execution are safe and easygoing, trading adventure — which you can discover elsewhere on the street — for familiarity and comfort. Which is probably just what Lord Buddha counseled. It’s possible he was reincarnated in our server, who made us feel like divinities ourselves.
Eat Street Buddha
2550 Nicollet Ave.