The Web site says “modern Asian bistro” and the other description they’ve put out is “ultra trendy modern Asian cuisine.” There was also some early talk about “New York–style Chinese food.” I don’t get any of this from a visit to Buddachen. I get a makeover on Jae’s Grill with a lot of sushi and a smattering of pan-Asian dishes, mostly Chinese, by former Jae’s partner Shun Li Chen. (Jae’s owner Jae Chung was one of the first Asian-American restaurateurs to recognize the importance of chocolate in barbarian cultures of the West; Buddachen’s owner, Mr. Chen, has not neglected that, either.) Nothing has the Korean spice and fusion verve of the original South End Jae’s, but there is quite a lot of good eating at attractive price points, and the right sorts of sake and Japanese beer.
The tables, still black granite (but now with white tufted-leather seating) are set for fusion, with both chopsticks and a napkin roll of knife, fork, and spoon. Plenty of weaponry, so let’s get to it!
We focused on Chinese and Japanese dishes, and told our server to bring them as they came out. First up was seaweed salad ($6). This dish doesn’t vary a lot from restaurant to restaurant, but I thought it was a hefty portion, nice and fresh, with a little hijiki mixed in for texture. Shu mai ($7) are Japanese-style neatly wrapped ground shrimp that look like scallops. This kitchen sends them out in a steel steamer, but the novel touch is a mayonnaise-based dip with a little sneaky heat.
A sashimi appetizer ($10) was our quick check on the raw fish. Red tuna, salmon, and two slices of flatfish were impeccably fresh and served with all the trimmings, including a leaf of shiso. Tamago sushi ($2.95) is the sweet omelet few people order. A vegetarian guest had it often in Japan, where it is apparently fluffy and sweeter. I try to pay attention to sushi rice, but Buddachen’s seems to be middle of the pack (though Brookline is a large pack).
Peking-duck salad ($11) is a fun idea, but stops with thin slices of lean duck and delicious cracklings of duck skin. The magic combination for me requires scallions, hoisin sauce, and something starchy, like the pancakes, as a foil. Scallions could be added to the field-greens salad, hoisin to the dressing, and starch as fried noodles or croutons. Memo to the chef.
The vegetarian maki combination ($13) is six cylinders each of asparagus ($3.95), avocado and cucumber ($3.50), and Popeye ($5.50) maki. The latter is a visually striking mix of carrot, spinach (well, of course), and avocado. For taste, I liked the asparagus, with a balance of spring vegetable and the earthy nori (algal seaweed paper) wrapper.
A so-called crispy whole fish ($20) was presented in swimming position, with the body partially boned and turned up like a boat. It was not large, but easy to get at most of the meat, and had a sweet-sour-hot sauce that may be a little too sweet.
Off the noodle menu, chow fun ($8, various mix-ins) are the wide rice noodles of South China, but without the real wok sear you get in the best Chinatown noodle dives. Our mix-ins were shrimp and vegetables, fine and dandy.