New York best bites: TAO at Downtown, Chelsea

As I mentioned in my write up about our four fabulous nights at the Dream Downtown hotel in New York, the prolific hot spot is a unique experience in itself. With it’s famous PHD nightclub on the roof, IGK hair salon, open-air swimming pool and duo of onsite restaurants, we could have happily spent our five days in the city right here. There’s waaay too much to be seeing, doing and most importantly, eating in NYC for that though of course.

We did however manage to squeeze in a seating at both of Dream’s eateries while we were there because with such glowing reviews and notorious reputations, it would have been positively rude not to. Bodega Negra was actually our first stop after landing hungry, tired and in desperate need of tacos. The uber cool, basement Mexican did not disappoint and quickly landed itself a spot on my best places to eat in New York list.

It wasn’t until a couple of nights later that we got round to seeing what all the high-profile fuss is about at Dream’s second acclaimed asset, TAO Downtown.

Tao Downtown New York restaurant

Tao restaurant at Dream Downtown New York

Pop TAO into Google and you’ll see it described as Pan-Asian cuisine in a clublike setting and well, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. We’ve got some great Asian eateries back home in Liverpool (I’m looking at you Blind Tiger) but as you might expect from the capital of the universe, this was on a whole other level. As a popular celebrity haunt and a glitterati go-to for Saturday night dinner in Manhattan, we were lucky to clinch a table in the lounge area, with massive thanks to our well-connected hotel concierge.

Rocking up in my old faithful Zara dress, slightly dishevelled eye make up and an expression of pure awe across my face, I had definitely underestimated the measure of this place. TAO isn’t the kind of restaurant where you can chow down on salt & pepper ribs like some sort of resurrected cavewoman; this is a upmarket establishment where the less clothes and more money the better. Or at least on a Saturday night, it seems.

I was glad I had packed my red suede party boots when standing in line at the restroom between two 10 foot tall women complimenting each other on their Dior stilettos and their sequinned ‘Loubs’. Somehow, I don’t think my Old Skool Vans would have sufficed.

Tao Downtown New York restaurant

Tao Dream Downtown Manhattan New York restaurant

Once we were seated at our table in the TAO lounge by a waitress who looked (and dressed) a lot like JLo’s long lost sister, we couldn’t help but to take a second to absorb our surroundings before even breaking the spine on the menus in front of us. Having already travelled down a cavernous, candlelit corridor to reach the main restaurant area, I suspected we might be in for a  real treat and when it comes to architecture and decor, this is certainly something special.

The lounge area where we were is an impressive platform at the top of an expansive staircase. As the staircase descends, each side is lined with upholstered, red leather booths where groups of people sat eating, drinking and enjoying the hedonism New York’s renowned extravagance has to offer. At the foot of the staircase you find yet more vast floorspace filled with freestanding tables and chairs, a bustling bar area and a colour-changing statue of an ancient God that is the focal point of TAO’s opulent and decorative design.

Although sitting in the lounge area to eat was slightly cramped for our liking, such a minor complaint got totally eclipsed by the views which our elevated spot afforded. Lights were low, music was loud, spirits were high and the atmosphere was vibrating with electricity. The incredible dishes we eventually got round to ordering and devouring were just a bonus that took the backseat and when food comes secondary with me, you know there must be something extraordinary going down.

Tao Dream Downtown Manhattan New York restaurant

Tao Dream Downtown Manhattan New York restaurant

Lights were so dim in fact, that you’re going to have to forgive my pretty shoddy photography in this blog post. In all their grainy glory, what you’re seeing in picture-form here is the Barbecue Duck Fried Rice ($22) bejewelled with lime, mint and fried broccoli, the Spicy Chili Chicken ($34) with onion, pineapple and soy, the Vegetable Spring Rolls ($16) and the Chicken Cashew ($34) with peppers, garlic and ginger. Everything we shared between us was absolutely delicious and with no compromise on quality or temperature considering how many customers were packing the venue out. I particularly enjoyed the Duck Fried Rice and the sweet, sticky, Spicy Chili Chicken.

The TAO menu is segmented into everything from Small Plates and Dim Sum to Yakitori and speciality dishes. The larger plates are separated by ‘Sky’, ‘Land’ and ‘Sea’ so there is something for everybody no matter what you’re individual dietary requirements or preferences. As you’ll notice, TAO definitely couldn’t be classified under ‘cheap eats’. However if you’re in New York for a celebration or you’re just on the hunt for the best places to eat in Chelsea or Manhattan then you’re onto a winner here for sure.


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