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Dance or Dine: Tao Downtown in New York City

Carolina Sanchez

Original painting by UK artist HUSH

I’ve always been somewhat disturbed by Koi fish. Maybe it’s the fact they look like overgrown goldfish 

that makes them seem grotesque. As I walked down the grand staircase, nearing the gigantesque Quan 

Yin Buddha with 24 protruding arms like a medusa

, I almost forgot about the Koi fish whirling around in the square-shaped pond at the base of the Buddha. I sat down in the sturdy wooden chair and opened the menu for 

Tao Downtown in New York City, the newest establishment of the restaurant-dance club family.

From the moment we entered, we were thrust into a world of enchantment: a glowing, long 

corridor lined with Chinese calligraphy and dragon-scale patterned screened walls, large ivory flowerpots illuminated by a floating candle and red rose petals; and alas, at the end of the tunnel lies the reception desk. We had one of the best tables in the large, dimly lit dining room, right in front of the upright Buddha. The décor is tasteful, but not subtle.

Every where we looked, there was adornment; golden Chinese calligraphy shined down on diners from the ceiling, small candles are strategically placed around the restaurant and created a pervasive glow, and Chinese-style lanterns hang from the side walls with royal red and gold tassels that are so large they could bang against a gong and make all of Chelsea feel the vibration.

The menu at this Tao is 75% different than their other location in Manhattan and Las

Vegas. Now, as vegan and gluten-free, I am reporting about the menu from that perspective. However, this is not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, but they have several options for special diets. To start we went with the Temple Salad, which was a variety of lettuces with shelled edamame (green soybeans), pickled ginger, fresh ginger, julienned cucumbers, and garlic served with soy vinaigrette. If you don’t care for some of the ingredients, tell the waiter and he or she will adjust accordingly. For the entrée, we ordered a Cucumber Avocado roll ($10), two Cucumber rolls ($10 each), and an Avocado roll ($8). Each roll has 6 pieces and is generous with the avocado. We were unsure about the pricing, as typically avocado rolls are more expensive, and in general, adding avocado to any dish usually incurs an extra fee at most restaurants. We would have appreciated some filtered water with the saltiness of the sushi, but the water tasted of remnants of Hawaiian punch and Sprite, and we suspect it came from a soda gun. Definitely go for bottled; it comes in a glass bottle.

They have an extensive list of wine, beer, cocktails, and sakes, but our waiter directed us to steer clear of the Tao Tini as it, “tastes like medicine;” crisis averted!

I decided to meander to the bathroom to check it out; in a place like this, I knew the bathroom had to live up to some expectations. I was not disappointed, but a bit confused as there is no sign for men’s and women’s. The room opens up with a choice to go right or left. Unless the bathroom attendant is standing there, you won’t know which way to go. Luckily a gentleman waiting on his girlfriend pointed me in the right direction. The incense in the air awakened my nose, and the friendly Senegalese bathroom attendant, who was finishing cleaning the small rooms, signaled me to an open door.

I was greeted by eyes that were like two oversized water drops; a girl reading a small red book, holding an unknown secret . Luckily, there was a small light above the toilet to light the way. The presence of a bathroom attendant has always made me uncomfortable; I don't feel I should be waited on to wash my hands and then feel like I need to tip someone to give me a paper towel which I didn't ask for...

Also, most of the tips in bathrooms, coat checks, etc. actually go 

towards

 the establishment and NOT in the pocket of the attendant.

This modern establishment serves up standard flavors at extravagant prices. The food is really nothing special; the main reason to go here is the experience. If you go past 9, the looming black speakers hanging from the ceiling in the corners will be pounding, but if you go before 9, you can speak comfortably.

And careful, the Buddha watches all...

Which vegan friendly restaurants in your city are your favorite? Leave a comment below and let us know, maybe we'll come through to do a review! :)

★★★

Maritime Hotel, 92 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

(

Between 16th and 17th St.)

(212) 888-2724,

http://taodowntown.com/#/home

ATMOSPHERE

A dimly lit, chic dining room visible in its entirety from the top of the grand 40-foot staircase with many wooden tables, and a grandiose, subtly illuminated Quan Yin Buddha statue stands from floor to ceiling at the helm of the dining room.

SERVICE

Good. Servers require some guidance for special dietary requests, but are attentive and helpful.

SOUND LEVEL

Moderate in the early evening, and loud (club-like) after 9pm.

RECOMMENDED

Temple Salad, Steamed Bok Choy, Avocado Cucumber Roll

DRINKS AND WINE

They serve a variety of signature cocktails, wine, and sakes.

PRICES

Appetizers, soups, and starters $10-$32; main courses, $29-$88, sushi rolls $8-$45

OPEN

Daily; Sun-Wed: 5pm-1am

;

Thurs-Sat: 5pm-2am

RESERVATIONS

Recommended.

FORMS OF PAYMENT

: All major credit cards and cash.