I went to The Bao with a couple of friends for a dinner a few weeks ago since we were all craving Chinese food. Friend 1 had tried it before and was a fan. Friend 2 was my sister who hadn’t been there before. The atmosphere and decor were pleasant… I liked the natural wood look and the decoration on the ceiling was made from different sized aluminum rain gutters. How creative! I am always fascinated at the unique and thoughtful designs that restaurants have. Hotels seem to go for high end design, but restaurants tend to try quirky and imaginative things. I love that out-of-the-box spirit.
We snagged a table right by the big front window looking down onto St. Mark’s Place. It’s definitely a nicer looking spot than you’d typically find in Chinatown. Friend 1 took the lead and ordered an excess of food for just three people, and then, in her bad-assness told our server IN MANDARIN, to space the food delivery out. (Take heed friends because all the dishes (apps and entrees) came to us way too quickly and my friend laid down the law for the folks to remind them to slow things the hell down). Here’s my breakdown of the meal.
We ordered drinks first. Ever curious, I asked about the “champagne milk tea.” What is that? I didn’t really understand the server’s description, but I was game anyway, so I ordered it. It came in a bottle which was, in turn, placed in a small ice bucket. It was delicious. It was sweet and reminded me of a Thai Iced Tea, but it was not cloyingly sweet and it had a really good tea flavor. I guess the “champagne” part was simply the way they served it. It was gimmicky but I ordered a second one anyway.
The cucumber garlic was simple but delicious. I’m a big fan of these cucumber dishes and love to start an Asian meal with them, so I was happy. (Note: the best cukes I’ve had were at Ippudo). Incidentally, the NY Times food section just had an article saying that smashed cucumber salads are the new hotness, so jump on board folks!
The scallion pancake w sliced beef was ok. I think I just don’t happen to be a fan of scallion pancakes because even though I could tell it was flaky and made from quality ingredients, it was just ok for me. Friend 1 ordered the hoison on the side (a good call) so it didn’t overpower the pancake.
The shrimp w scrambled egg was just that. It was a decent helping of barely set scrambled eggs w lightly sauteed shrimp, and it was good… but it was just shrimp and scrambled egg. I mean, I think I could make a tastier version in my own kitchen.
We were next served four little turnip puffs sprinkled with sesame seeds. I loved these steamy little darlings. They were unusual, tasty and piping hot. They were quite small, but I’d order these again.
Out came the soup dumplings, which are called Xiao Long Bao. We got the crab version. Friend 1 explained how to eat the fragile morsel, and as I wondered how to describe it to you I read the most beautiful instructions in a NY Times article by Ligaya Mishan: “It’s a perilous moment, lifting a soup dumpling from its basket, hoping it won’t tear and spill its beautiful guts. This one’s skin is delicate but does not break, at least not yet, not under the tongs’ little teeth. The dumpling lands in the spoon intact, plump but not sagging, buoyant as a ball gown. Take a bite, gently, from the top; watch the steam flee; sip the broth inside, just enough to taste; then down it whole.” Isn’t that fantastic? The dumplings were thin and light and the broth was wonderful. It is a souper (see what I did there) soup dumpling (maybe only to be outdone by Anita Lo’s dumpling at Annisa… but… that is the incomparable Anita Lo.
A huge bowl of Mapo Tofu was next. Friend 1 was smart to order a bowl of white rice (I hate when restaurants charge for a tiny bowl of white rice, which they did.) to eat with this. It was decent, but again, I have a favorite which can be found at Mission Chinese.
Squashed Pepper and Eggplant came out next. I helped myself to some and was put off by the amount of oil in the dish even though the taste was ok. I didn’t notice that it came to the table in a little bowl with a pestle. Friend 2, ok, I’ll call her sis, proceeded to pound together the contents of the dish to mix the flavors. I’m guessing that might have helped but I didn’t try it all mixed up because I just couldn’t deal with the oil.
Rounding it out was the sauteed cauliflower which was surprisingly delicious. I could eat a dish like that every day. It was so simple and so tasty.
Bursting at the seams we plonked our credit cards down to pay the bill when it came but were told that their policy was to only accept 2 cards. Excuse me? What kind of ridiculous policy is that? It makes no sense and is frankly inconvenient and dumb.
This place had some hits and some misses, but the hits were good enough to make me want to go back. I’m interested to try the Pork Soup Dumplings, which are highly recommended on other sites, among a few other things. I will definitely make sure I have cash next time too. *eye roll*
Scallion pancakes and smashed cucumbers
Scrambled eggs w/ Shrimp
XLB Crab Soup Dumplings *sluuuuurp*
Ma Po Tofu, don’t forget to order rice