I’m sure I knew what Tao was all about by virtue of watching this past season of “Celebrity Apprentice” and seeing how many times Dennis Rodman recommended it, but the Restaurant Week menu somehow made that seem unimportant. It became important again, though, about five seconds after I walked in the door and heard the thumping club music and saw the crowds of yuppies and tourists holding drinks in the waiting area.
After an uncomfortable fifteen-minute wait where we were bumped into multiple times despite leaving plenty of room around us for people to get by, my boyfriend and I were led upstairs, across a bridge, and to a booth along one wall. Kamran ordered two TAO-tinis for us (a super-girly raspberry drink served in a martini glass to make it look more masculine, $12.50), which were very alcoholic and delicious.
We drank them as fast as we could in an attempt to forget how annoyingly trendy the atmosphere was and prayed to the giant two-story Buddha statue in the front of the restaurant for our appetizers to arrive quickly. And they did.
I had the pork potstickers and thought they were really good aside from the completely unnecessary baby greens on top. The spicy sauce was good enough to be eaten on its own by the spoonful, and the side of each dumpling that was seared brown and crispy made me want to not share them.
Kamran ordered the TAO Temple Salad simply because he was trying to choose the healthiest option, but not only was he disappointed in how unexciting the salad was, but there were fried dough strips on top that made it unhealthy, anyway. I thought the dressing made it bearable as far as salads go, but I only had to eat one bite before I got to go back to my potstickers, so maybe I’m biased.
My entrée was truly, truly delicious. The wasabi-crusted filet mignon was what had drawn me to the menu in the first place, and it only exceeded my expectations. I’d asked for it to be cooked medium-well, as I don’t care to see my meat bleed, but the chef as usual had insisted on sending it out still very red. And of course it was perfect. The wasabi crust on top had the consistency of sugar crystals and enough spice to please me but not so much that it made my nose run. The beef was tender and flavorful, and the portion was huge.
The real standout was the pile of onion rings on the side, though. I hadn’t expected them, which made them all the more delightful. They were sweet, they were buttery, they were crunchy, and they had chive blossoms poking out of them. They were undoubtedly the best onion rings I’ve ever had and are worth the $35 dinner prix fixe price tag themselves.
Kamran ordered the Chilean sea bass, and for someone who doesn’t make much to-do about great food, he was very intent on making me try it. I’m the type of person who hates seafood so much that I’ll spend twenty minutes picking all of the clams out of my clam chowder, but I have to admit that this fish was awesome. It was extra flaky on one side and extra crispy on the other, and the crust that gave it its crisp was so delicious that I held on to a hunk of it to eat after my steak was gone.
Desserts seem to err on the side of caution during Restaurant Week, but the banana bread pudding I ordered was no slouch. It wasn’t actually bread pudding at all, though. It was banana pudding (as good as the kind you get at Magnolia Bakery) with a layer of vanilla wafer cookies underneath, a layer of cookie crumbs on top, and a tempura-battered banana to boot. The fried banana and the banana pudding were both so good that I had a hard time figuring out which to save for my last bite. Kamran was ridiculously jealous.
Kamran ordered the ginger fruit having no idea what it was but figuring once again that it was the healthiest option. It turned out to be a huge dish of the sweetest, freshest fruits with a scoop of ginger sorbet on top. The lychees were the finest I’ve had, and all of the fruits were so sweet that the sorbet didn’t seem to compete with them. I couldn’t necessarily taste the ginger, but Kamran assures me he could, and he does have the superior palate, after all. My picture’s too dark to see the dish, but we’ll always have the memory of it.
On the way out, I got into a scuffle with a guy on the bridge who wouldn’t move to let me pass by (“Take it easy, girl.”), but that’s the sort of thing I expected from the clientele. I commented to Kamran that it’s a shame there were so many people there who probably couldn’t appreciate the food at all, but he called me a snob, so I guess I’m alone in thinking that.
Aside from my astonishingly negative thoughts about the too-loud, too-obnoxious atmosphere, my dining experience was top-notch. I don’t have a bad thing to say about my food, the huge loft-like space was surprising to find in Manhattan, and the waitstaff was accommodating. I’d love to go back sometime, although maybe at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night.