Overall impression: Never mind that the first restaurant called Buddha Bar debuted in Paris in 1996 and then opened outposts across the globe. Delray Beach has a hot spot in Buddha Sky Bar, even if it is late to the Buddha theme party, having opened in March. The great service and party vibe could only be improved by consistently great food. Several dishes soared, but a few too many sank. After weighing all of the pluses and minuses, it's still deserving of three stars.
Background: AMG Restaurants, owner of the Delray restaurant, hired Tony Torres as head chef. Torres was sous chef at Nikki Beach and Pearl in Miami Beach before going to Lotus in Sunny Isles Beach. The dim sum chef is An He, who mostly recently worked at Hakkasan, the outstanding contemporary Cantonese restaurant at Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
Ambience: This chic restaurant/lounge combination may be Delray's only third-floor restaurant. It sometimes feels smaller than its 83 seats, which include bar-height stools, low-slung sofas and high-backed banquettes. Decorated in bright red and warm wood, Buddha Sky Bar is what we've come to expect of modern Asian restaurants. No pagodas. No paper lanterns. No dragons. On a recent Saturday night — packed in August — there was a big group toasting birthday cake shots, and smaller parties more interested in the food.
The menu: It's divided into six categories: Starters, Robata Grill, Dim Sum, Wok, Sushi and Desserts. I suggest sharing several dishes from several categories.
Starters: The menu's starter section features Korean Barbecue Ribs ($14), fall-off-the-bone beauties doused in ginger and lemon grass spiked sauce. From the Dim Sum section, the tender and tasty Chicken Shu Mai ($7), four to an order, are served with three dipping sauces including a delicious hot chile. Two crispy beef rolls ($9), fresh out of the fryer, are indeed crispy and just a bit spicy, especially with that hot chile dipping sauce. We asked that a Dragon Roll ($29), from the sushi section of the menu, be removed from our check. Perhaps it had sat too long before being delivered to the table because its overall texture was mushy. The tempura lobster had lost any crunch, and the temperature of the roll was neither hot nor cold.
Entree excellence: One of the best dishes we tasted was Black Cod Miso Skewers ($14) off the Robata Grill. The white miso marinade gave the cod an almost nutty flavor. Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin ($18) was a rich combination of tenderloin and pork belly served with a side of tempura cauliflower. The pork was a bit cold, however. The Summer Vegetable Lettuce Wrap ($18), a vegetarian dish from the Wok section of the menu, was one of the most full-flavored dishes we sampled. It was like a vegetarian moo shu with jicama, bamboo shoots, green beans, tofu, pine nuts, avocado, Asian pear and mushrooms. Peking Duck ($36 half, $65 full) was a failure from the start. It was cold, so it didn't have the crisp skin usually found in the dish. The pancakes were also cold, and each bite came with a combination of bone and gristle. Someone needs a lesson in cutting and shredded Peking duck. It, too, was removed from our check.
Sweet!: We liked the Chocogoma ($12), which is black goma (sesame seed) sponge cake, milk chocolate cream brulee, candied pecan, goma ice cream and chai tea bubbles. The Buddha Sky Bar Bento Box ($14) combines white chocolate lava cake, coconut curry crumble, ginger ice cream, green tea cigar filled with strawberry mousseline, yuzu marshmallow and fresh fruit. Peanut Butter & Jelly Wontons ($11) are deep-fried wonders filled with peanut butter, apples, raspberry jelly and basil ice cream.
Service: It takes a special kind of server to juggle food and cocktails, all the while trying to talk over the din of partying people. Our server did it all, expertly.
Liquid assets: Check out the innovative cocktails including Rising Sun Sake Sangria ($12) made from sake, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, chardonnay, orange and pineapple juices, or the Shiso Zen Passion ($12), a combination of rum, passion fruit puree, blackberries, purple mint and lime juice. The bar also stocks a great selection of Japanese beer beyond the typical Sapporo.
Dining deal: For Happy Hour (5:30-7 p.m. daily), everything on the menu — including drinks — is half-price. On Sundays, dim sum is half-price.