This review of a New York restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
For most people, Chinese food means noodles, fried rice, roast duck and maybe Dim Sum. There’s much more to it than just that of course, and one of the under appreciated gems is the humble bao – steamed yeast buns. Bao are available in a wide variety of forms, but one version I hadn’t come across before is Taiwanese bao where the bun is split open and filled with meat, seafood and/or veg, resembling a sandwich. Baohaus is a two-branch mini-chain in Manhattan serving up delicious mini Taiwanese bao.
The Baohaus branch on East 14th Street is nothing more than a spartan shoebox space containing a small kitchen and a handful of tables and stools, but service was nevertheless friendly and charming – although it did help I was only one of two people there during my weekday lunchtime visit. The name is a playful portmanteau of bao and Bauhaus and there are more playful, cheesy puns sprinkled throughout the menu.
For example, there’s the Chairman Bao. This bao is filled with tender and fatty chunks of braised pork belly which had a slightly sweet taste as well as a salty soy sauce-like flavour. The delicious meat goes very well with the soft, fluffy bun and there’s plenty of fresh coriander and crushed peanuts too.
Just as successful was the oyster bao. The intensely creamy oyster is deep fried in batter, tempura-style, and served with a zesty, spicy sauce that compliments the oyster rather than overwhelms it. Although the batter is rather anonymous, the bao is just as fluffy and soft as it is in the Chairman Bao.
Sadly, the broccoli bao isn’t as impressive. The vegetable is too soft and tasteless, a problem which also affects the tempura batter it is clothed in. What flavour there is comes from the tangy hoi sin sauce, rather than the tempura broccoli itself. A rather disappointing effort.
Despite the name, the sweet bao fries are meant as a dessert rather than as a savoury accompaniment to the meat, seafood and vegetable bao. The slices of deep fried bao resemble the deep fried dough sticks often served with congee, a Cantonese rice porridge dish. Here they have a crisp, slightly crunchy texture almost resembling that of a Krispy Kreme doughnut. It’s then topped with your choice of a variety of sauces – I opted for the durian sauce which successfully captured the distinctive taste of that pungent Asian fruit and its syrupy sweetness went very well with the deep fried bao slices. Although it’s not quite as addictive as a Krispy Kreme doughnut, it’s not far off.
Although not perfect, there are few other places in New York I would rather go for a tasty and filling lunch or snack that also costs this little. If only Taiwanese bao were available in London! Highly recommended.
Address: 238 East 14th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenue), New York, NY 10002
Phone: 646 684 3835
Opening Hours: Sunday-Thursday, noon-23.00; Friday-Saturday, midday-02.00
Reservations: not accepted.
Total cost for one person including soft drink: $17 approx. (approx. £11 at time of writing)