First Dish: Buddha’s Ritual

Nikki BuchananJanuary 26, 2022
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At 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon, Buddha’s Ritual in North Scottsdale entertains a small, relaxed crowd — six or seven jeans-clad guys in their 30s having a beer-y business lunch and three pairs of 20-something women nibbling light bites and sipping cocktails. The garage doors are open, and a breeze blows across the bar, riffling the napkins as two equally young barkeeps make photogenic herb-laden cocktails for a photo shoot that will announce Buddha’s soon-to-launch brunch.

Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood at the bottom corner of a trendy live/work loft, townhome and penthouse complex called SOHO Scottsdale, Buddha’s Ritual — an Asian-American fusion restaurant — is little more than a month old, having opened in December without much fanfare. And yet, the soothing space, decorated in soft pink and aqua, is not without pedigree.

Owners Scott and Melissa McIntire of Mac Entertainment Group are also the entrepreneurs behind The Lola at Westgate and The Ainsworth in Downtown Phoenix. For this project, they’ve partnered with “Joey Boy” Rodriguez (host of The Morning Mess on Live 101.5 FM) and Freddy Nguyen (who has worked on design for The Maggiore Group). On the day of my visit, the place feels lazy and laidback, but, as our bartender points out, that’s all about to change.

Photo by Nikki Buchanan

You see, the restaurant sits just up the street from WestWorld, longtime home to Barrett Jackson — one of the most exclusive car auctions in the country —and it’s cranking now through January 30. I’ll just bet the relaxed vibe I so enjoyed last week has completely evaporated.

I sure hope the food quality hasn’t gone out the window with it because this fun place offers way better food than you’d expect from a place that exudes “concept.” From the starters section comes tarviche, a gorgeously composed patty-cake of ahi tuna tartar, layered with avocado, red onion-spiked mango salsa, cherry tomato halves dabbed with crème fraiche and microgreens. Puffy rice crackers and cucumber chips are provided for dipping. I didn’t quite catch the “ceviche” part of this dish, but who cares when it’s rich, savory and buttery as well as light, sweet and tart all at once?

I’m slightly disappointed with the Grilled Kimcheese though, a grilled cheese sandwich composed of melty muenster and mozzarella, stacked with pork belly and kimchee. The sourdough bread that holds it all together is smeared with house tomato jam. The sandwich has cooled a bit before we get it, and the cheese doesn’t have that hot, gushing quality that makes a grilled cheese one of the most comforting sandwiches on God’s green earth. Additionally, the kimchee is a bit tame, lacking that bite of heat and tang that is a hallmark of good kimchee. Love the pork belly though. With a little tweaking, this combo could be deadly.

Photo by Nikki Buchanan

I’m a white pizza lover, and Buddha’s wood-fired Trang Pie mostly hits the mark for me. The crust seems a bit pale for being wood fired (where are the splotches of char?), but the crust is agreeably chewy, and toppings are subtle but lovely. Think mozzarella, salty pecorino, fluffy drifts of ricotta, oven-softened garlic cloves, fresh basil and a blackened lemon for squeezing over the top. Drizzled with truffle oil and arugula aioli, it’s elegant and a little girlie. Me like.

Croffles — aka croissant dough waffles — show up on the starter section of the regular menu and under “sweet” on the Saturday/Sunday brunch menu. If you’re a hedonist, have them first, or do as we do and save them for dessert. They’re yummy either way, combining crispy waffles, fresh berries, whipped cream, pomegranate powder (for a hit of tartness) and a pale pink “razztaff” sauce that tastes of raspberries and taffy.

I’m not sure Buddha’s Ritual is ready to handle the crowds it’s likely to get this week and maybe again in early February for the Phoenix Open. I’ll probably wait to go back when the dust settles. Maybe in May I’ll take a crack at the shareable Saint Bourdain — five spice-braised pork belly, glazed with teriyaki, topped with chicharrones and served with pickled veggies and various sauces. See what I mean about fun?

16580 N 92nd St., Ste. 100, Scottsdale, 480-687-0298,


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