Strategic Group’s massive addition to the already bustling Meatpacking District, Tao Downtown, has received a lot of buzz since it’s opening. Both Tao locations have a reputation of being a place to have a good time rather than to eat great food and, to be honest, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Located in the Maritime Hotel and designed by luxury design firm Rockwell Group, Tao is housed in both the former Matsuri and Hiro Ballroom spaces and can seat over 1,000 guests. The restaurant itself looks like a more updated version of Tao in Midtown and has a clientele to match. Of course the business and uptown clients can be found in both the uptown and downtown locations, given the high tabs, but the new Tao also has a larger fashion crowd.
The bar area becomes packed at around 8 PM, conveniently around the same time the DJ arrives, and comes complete with a nightclub-esque bottle menu. Bottles of Belvedere sell for around $400 and bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue are subject to a 4x retail mark up selling for $800. If an $800 seems a bit steep the same blended luxury scotch is available for $40 by the glass, which is still pricey but not totally outrageous considering Top of the Standard charges $75 for a glass of the same liquor. If hard liquor isn’t your thing but you still want the best, the wine list features $2500 bottles of 1996 Chateau Latour, which retails for around $800, and $1600 bottles of 1996 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, which retails for around $600. High prices remain consistent across both the drink and food menus. If drinking at the table seems too boring and common for you, feel free to grab a drink at the fully stocked bar located conveniently in the bathroom.
The menu has been set up to be conducive to sharing. Traditionally ordering an appetizer, entree and dessert may not be the best route to take when approaching Tao’s menu. We would suggest ordering about 2 appetizers per person, since portions are rather small, and an entree. If opting for strictly sushi, we suggest two to three specialty rolls and and one of the three Omakase options. However, don’t expect a traditional Omakase which is usually served piece by piece. The Omakase at Tao is essentially a sushi deluxe and while it is pricey (11 pieces and a roll sell for $59) the sushi isn’t terrible, it’s actually pretty good. After a lackluster experience with Tao Uptown’s sushi we were pleasantly surprised with the quality and freshness of the fish at Tao. We’re not saying Tao is on par, or even close, to restaurants like Sushi Seki, we must say what we had was better than we expected.
The cooked food is also much better than we anticipated. The dim-sum menu, especially the Pork Potstickers, proved to be tasty and great for sharing. Entrees such as the Peking Duck for two were quite good but beware as the “for two” can be a bit deceiving. We also enjoyed the moist Black Cod and the Pad Thai that could easily feed two people. The Black Bass, one of the more simple dishes we tried, is perfect for less adventurous diners and the sides were also shockingly good as well. We suggest about one rice dish per two people and one side per person.
We must say, the quality of the food at Tao Downtown was much better than we expected. For a restaurant you’re not going to mainly for the food, we honestly enjoyed everything we ate. Though the prices are a bit expensive for the food you’re getting, you also have to take into consideration that at a place such as Tao, you pay for the atmosphere more than the food. Sure, $38 for the Black Cod and $17 for fried rice is a bit absurd if served anywhere else, but Tao creates such a fun and lively atmosphere that we didn’t really mind the high prices. The restaurant itself is stunning, the service is quick yet we never felt rushed, and the food, while certainly not the best we’ve ever had by any means, was good enough for a restaurant where food isn’t the first priority. If money is not an option, we would recommend Tao Downtown to anyone looking for a fun night out.
92 9th Ave.
New York, NY 10011