1 Japanese whisky is rare in the U.S. That’s according to Buddakan restaurateur Stephen Starr. How so? Because producers in Japan are protective of their imports and want to make sure their whiskies are being paired correctly. Atlantic City’s Buddakan inside The Playground (formerly the) Pier Shops) is known for their Japanese whisky and pure sake prix-fixe dinners, which give foodies a unique opportunity to sample some of the world’s rarest spirits with well-paired dishes. The dinners cost $85 per person, but for five courses, it is well worth it.

2 It’s not all about the whisky. Buddakan has a full selection of beers, wines and eight specialty cocktails – with four of them on the happy hour menu. Try the Longevity, mixed with Bacardi Wolf Berry, blueberry, yuzu, mint and Thai basil or the Enlightment, an Asian martini blended with Milagro Silver Tequila, fresh cucumber and lime (both $12.50). Quench your thirst with beers such as Kirin Light or Ichiban, a pale lager (both $6).

3 For Buddha, the path to happiness starts from understanding the root of suffering. But for most people, the path to happiness is the route to happy hour. Buddakan offers a $5 happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Sundays through Fridays, in their dimly lit, cozy bar area with eight leopard stools and two benches set apart from the main dining area. Munch on the Cantonese spring rolls stuffed with shrimp and chicken or the mouth-watering Szechuan pork dumplings. The most popular cocktail is the Zen-gria mixed with ginger-infused sake, ginger liqueur, lemongrass and white wine.

4 It’s the perfect place to host your special bachelor or bachelorette dinner. Buddakan has a fabulous communal table that seats up to 28 guests. And guests are instantly feel as if they’ve been transported to an ancient Chinese village surrounded by rocks and foot bridges, multi-colored archways and 25-foot tall trees that appear to grow through the ceiling. It will make you feel like you are dining under the stars while comfortably remaining in indoors. The kitchen offers amazing pan-Asian cuisine such as the Lobster fried rice, hot and sour scallops, wasabi crusted filet mignon or pan seared sea bass.

5 Just try to rub his belly. The entire restaurant is pretty dark, and some might say the decorations are over the top, but that’s what makes this place so unique. Particularly the giant, golden Buddha statue that dominants the room, providing a groovy vibe that helps to leave you in a relaxed, stress-free mood. The Buddha is made of gold leaf and fiberglass — and it was specially blessed by monks before Buddakan opened eight years ago.

Background

Owner: Stephen Starr

Opened: October 2006

Evolution: Buddakan is one of two restaurants Stephen Starr, owner of Starr Restaurant Organization, opened at The Pier eight years ago -- the other being the world-class diner The Continental just next door. Starr wanted to take the dining scene in South Jersey to exciting, new heights with fantastic food in an intimate setting.

Essentials

What: Buddakan

Where: 1 Atlantic Ocean in The Playground

When: Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

Capacity: 220

Dress code: No dress code

How much: Four- and five-course meals range from $60 to $80; beer $5.50 to $12.50; cocktails $12.50; Zen-gria pitcher $47, wines $12.50

Who’s there: Couples that want a romantic evening of dining, brides- and grooms-to-be

What you’ll hear: A wide range of contemporary, soothing music

More info: Call 609-674-0100 or go to BuddakanAC.com.

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