A Downtown Homerun
By W.A. Muller
Tao Downtown is all about spectacle, located beneath the Maritime Hotel. Spanning an entire city block (approximately 22,000 square feet), TAO Downtown is the latest import to bring a touch of Las Vegas spectacle to New York City from its owners including Rich Wolf, Marc Packer, Jason Strauss and Noah Teppenberg.
"We've spent over ten years perfecting what TAO represents," says Partner Rich Wolf. "This isn't just a 'second location' of TAO in New York City; it is the next iteration of our brand. Devoted fans will still feel at home, but there are many elements that distinguish the restaurant from its sister locations. This is what guests can expect from us moving forward."
TAO Downtown offers a distinct sense of arrival and discovery and is the first TAO venue where guests descend into the multi-level space. The subterranean restaurant is intended to look and feel as if it has been there for decades and only unearthed recently to reveal the artifacts within. Once inside the main room, a grandiose 40-foot staircase becomes the focal point of the impressive space, serving as the first "wow moment" and providing aerial views of the scene below. Specially-crafted banquettes are tucked within the grand staircase, offering prime seating amongst a diverse array of intriguing statues and sculptures sourced abroad. Custom-made, beaded-tassel light fixtures and oversized lantern-like pendants provide warm lighting within the high-ceilinged restaurant. Playing off the aged, vintage aesthetic, UK street artist HUSH, renowned for his artful Eastern images of feminine beauty and sensuality, has hand-painted original mixed media murals throughout the cavernous space.
Two custom-made Buddhas, over 16-feet in length, bookend the space and keep a watchful eye over the restaurant and its guests. The reclining Buddha greets guests immediately prior to the restaurant revealing itself, while the Quan Yin, replete with 24 hands, sits atop a koi pond, acting as the anchor of the main dining room. A floor-to-ceiling patterned screen frames the Quan Yin and accentuates the statue's hands, which represent her ability to render assistance; she is brought to life through 3D projection mapping technology developed in Rockwell Group's LAB, which utilizes ten animations such as a waterfall flowing down the Quan Yin's body and blinking eyes to seemingly transform before guests' eyes.
Every element has been meticulously planned from a menu based on culinary fact-finding trips throughout Asia to decorative items sourced during trips abroad. TAO Downtown offers a menu designed by chef/partner Ralph Scamardella and his culinary team, comprised of executive chef Yoshi Kojima and Executive Chef ooi Soon Lok. Signature dishes include offerings from sea, sky and land, such as crispy snapper in the sand, Roasted Chicken Chow Mein, served with hand pulled noodles made fresh daily in-house and Wagyu Sukiyaki. Guests can also anticipate an updated selection of sharable plates, ranging from house-made Dim Sum and traditional Yakitori skewers to an assortment of Barbeque, Tempura and small plates.
Desserts, include Taiwanese Shaved Ice, made on a machine flown in from Hong Kong, and Thai Coffee Custard, with mandarin sorbet and cocoa crunch. Beverage Director Keith Nelson has also crafted a menu of ten new specialty cocktails including Shiso TAO-Hito and 5-Spice Cherry Manhattan as well as an extensive wine list with over 200 varietals and sake selection featuring 30 sakes by the bottle and 25 by the glass.