Restaurant: Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
Last visited: February 1, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Chinatown)
Address: 163 Keefer St
Train: Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain
Price Range: $20-30+ ($9-15 small plates)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4 - 4.5
- Euro-Chinese/Asian cuisine
- Modern fusion
- Small plates
- Good for sharing
- Local favourite
- Busy at peak hours
- “Hipster” feel
- Vegetarian friendly
- Cocktail list/bar
- Moderately priced
- Award winning
- No reservations
- Mon-Sat 5.30pm – 12am
**Recommendations: Octopus Salad, Beef Tartare, Shao Bing, Mantou
This is one of the few Euro-Asian/Chinese fusion restaurants I actually like in Metro Vancouver. For many of us coming from an Asian background, or even those familiar with authentic Asian food, we often find “fusion” versions of it an overpriced bastardization of the real deal. With an immediate turn to Sriracha sauce, Hoisin sauce, plum sauce, and “foodie forbid” neon orange sweet and sour sauce, it usually lacks an understanding of the cuisine, regions, style, flavour and how they come together.
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie entered the Vancouver food scene in Spring 2010 and since then it has become a popular local favourite. Not only that, but it has become an award winning restaurant sweeping the titles for “Best New Restaurant”, “Best Small Plates”, and “Best New Design” at the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards 2011. It was already named “Best New Restaurant” by EnRoute Magazine in 2010 and it continues to represent modern Chinese cuisine done right.
It could help that the owner Tannis Ling and Chef Joel Watanabe come from an Asian background, but they have a clear vision and know how to appeal to West Coast tastes while paying respect to authenticity and tradition. They also have experience working at well established higher end restaurants in Vancouver and have managed to keep Bao Bei just as busy as it was when it first opened.
The restaurant is a mix of stylish and sophisticated Gastown meets eclectic and vintage Main Street, which makes the location perfect. Located in Chinatown, pretty much exactly between Gastown and Main Street, Bao Bei offers a cozy atmosphere that is vintage without being dated. To add, the feel is artistic without being pretentious or unrelatable, and it’s ideal for groups of 2-3.
I’ve dined here in the past and have recommended it to others, but it has been a while since I’ve been back and I was looking forward to the visit. The food isn’t authentic Chinese, but it is based on traditional Chinese dishes. It offers Chinese and Asian ingredients presented in small plates with European style, and Chinese and French execution and techniques. Next to Jean-Georges I would say that this is one of the few restaurants that grasp the concept of “fusion” rather than use it as a buzz word for what really is just a “switch up” (eg: Japadog – which I actually like, but it’s a “switch up, not “fusion”).
The idea of “authenticity” always comes up and it’s hard to let go of when it involves something you’re familiar with, but in the end good food is good food. It is slightly pricey and the dishes feel a bit repetitive at times, but generally I find the food very good and I see it as “New Generation” Chinese food. I would have loved to see them compete in the BC Chinese Chef of the Year Competition (open to non-Chinese chefs too) and strongly feel they would have done well.
On the table:
- Braised beef tendons, Chinese celery, cilantro, mala paste, julienned apple, scallions, chardonnay vinegar and apple pearls $8
- It’s literally and figuratively “gutsy” putting tendons on the menu, but it’s very traditional Chinese to do so, and I loved seeing it available.
- Personally I’m not crazy about beef tendons due to their overly gelatinous textures, but I do like the Spicy Beef Tendons at Dinesty Chinese Restaurant. I thought this dish would come out looking more like that.
- I loved the sound of everything else on the plate and I actually preferred the beef tendons coming out like this since it looked more appetizing and lessened the gelatinous quality of it.
- They’re good at making things appeal to Western tastes and they played with a bit of molecular gastronomy with this one.
- The dish was covered with lots of cilantro and it almost reminded me of Phnom Penh’s Marinated Butter Beef, but it didn’t taste like it.
- Tendons don’t have a beef flavour if you’re new to it.
- The beef tendons were executed like a French style terrine and shaved into thin slices. This method made it taste almost like headcheese.
- The beef tendons were naturally gelatinous like jelly, but incredibly tender from being braised and not chewy.
- The slices were well marinated with what I think is soy and vinegar. It was more savoury and tangy with a slight pickled flavour and no apparent heat. I wouldn’t mind some sesame oil for more aromatics too.
- I couldn’t taste the sweetness or crunch of the apples and I could have used more of that as well.
- It was a very acidic dish and the sweetness came from the chardonnay vinegar and apple pearls which I thought were apple infused tapioca at first.
- The Mala paste was executed as gels and they were pretty potent and carried most of the flavour for the overall dish.
- Mala sauce is a Szechuan chili oil made with a variety of chilies, peppers and spices, but the gels were only mildly spicy.
- It was nice to see all the deconstructed components of the dish, but having the jelly pearls and Mala gels on top of the already gelatinous tendons were just a bit too repetitive in texture.
- I would have appreciated more apples and contrasting textures of either crunchy garlic chips or toasted cashews or toasted rice to break things up; otherwise it was a good dish and good introduction to beef tendons if you’ve never had them.
- Braised and wok charred with sliced radish, watercress, confit garlic, thai basil pickled cucumber and drizzle of chili oil $14
- I really like octopus. The Korean nakji-bokum (stir fried octopus salad with vegetables) is one of my favourite Asian style octopus salads.
- This was a very West Coast octopus salad and it was quite messy to eat due to the long pieces of watercress and big chunks of ingredients.
- The watercress was quite oily and the dressing tasted quite acidic along with everything else.
- It was a good thing the cucumbers weren’t too pickled because it might have been overwhelming.
- The garlic cloves were my favourite and they were creamy sweet and buttery.
- The octopus were in big chunks and they were slightly chewy, but not that bad to be picky about.
- It didn’t have that “wok aroma” though so I wish the pieces had been actually grilled to produce that intense charred flavour.
- The salad was dominant with watercress flavour which is similar to arugula, but almost more pungent.
- I didn’t really notice the Thai basil and chili oil and there was only a very mild heat that was barely noticeable, so I wouldn’t mind some extra spice.
- Crunchy sesame flatbread with cumin lamb sirloin, pickled red onion, cilantro, green peppers and salted chilies $12
- This was more of a “switch up” recipe than “fusion”, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
- The Shao Bing is one of my favourite dishes here and they originally made it with pork butt. I love both versions and it’s one of my favourite Asian fusion sandwiches.
- The lamb version of the Shao Bing tastes more Middle Eastern than it does Chinese or Asian, but I liked it.
- This is almost the Asian version of a Torta (Mexican sandwich) or even gyro in this case.
- I almost wanted some spicy yogurt with this though, which would be completely not Chinese, but just plain good.
- The Shao Bing bread is a Chinese style flatbread crusted with sesame seeds so it’s super thin, crispy and nutty.
- The sandwich is well stuffed and I could taste every ingredient listed.
- There were slices of tender, moist, aromatic and smoky lamb with whole toasted cumin seeds. It wasn’t gamey, but still obvious as lamb rather than beef.
- The slight bitterness of green peppers enhanced the smokiness of the meat and I could have had this over fried rice noodles.
- The pickled red onions added crunch and a desired acidity to contrast all the heavier ingredients and the raw cilantro kept things fresh and bright like it does in a banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich).
- I didn’t taste the salted chilies, but it had the heat of sliced jalapenos which gave it a nice heat.
- It had the savoury, tang, spice, and nuttiness, and I just wish there was something sweet like a mint jelly to really complete it.
- I did prefer the pork Shao Bing which was only $10, but I’d still reorder this lamb version at $12.
- Suckling pork, chili marinated bamboo shoots, pickled mustard greens, dried pork fluff, roasted peanuts, green onions with Youtiao (Chinese donut) $13
- This was a special and it’s a great way to use up leftover rice if you’re not making fried rice.
- Had the congee been thinner and flavoured with pork bones and dried scallops it would have been excellent (5/6), but the texture of the congee was smooth but quite gluey which was very unfortunate. It just had a gingery flavour.
- Congee is pretty much peasant food or breakfast food in Asian cultures. It would usually cost $7 (with seafood/meat) at a Chinese place, so for $13 I wanted it to really deliver.
- It had all the toppings I usually put in my plain congee, except for the deep fried crispy fishes, preserved olives and century eggs (also called preserved duck eggs or Thousand Year Old Eggs).
- The best part was the suckling pork which they gave a lot of, but there was a good amount of each ingredient overall.
- The suckling pork had an extra crunchy candied crackling skin and the meat was tender and juicy as it should be.
- It was less fatty than the authentic Chinese kinds and I actually liked that it wasn’t so fatty. It had just the right amount of fat and the quality of meat was good.
- Compared to European takes on it, it was comparable to the one at Meat & Bread and better than the one at La Brasserie.
- The chili marinated bamboo shoots come available in a jar, but I actually think they made these ones in house. They were on the softer side and mildly spicy, but not particularly different than ones you can get from a jar.
- I love dried pork fluff (dried and shredded pork jerky that has the texture of cotton balls) and this was bought, but pretty much no one makes it in house anyways.
- There was a good amount and variety of ingredients, textures, and balance of pickled and savoury toppings, so I had no complaints with everything given.
- The only hindering thing was the somewhat bland and thick congee, which is comparable to having bland and dry sushi rice, it really makes or breaks the final product.
- This was included with the congee, but it was also offered as a dessert with condensed milk caramel, ginger and palm sugar soymilk for $7
- Despite it not being an authentic Youtiao and more like a sweet fluffy soft donut, I think it still tasted good and I still liked it.
- The authentic Chinese donuts are usually fried crispy all the way though in Hong Kong, although I have come across fluffy soft ones before.
- It’s usually airy light, but this one was beady and dense, but not dry or too oily.
- It’s comparable to a churro, but unsweetened.
- Off the top of my head, if you want authentic congee and Chinese donuts I would recommend Michigan Noodle House.
The dessert menu didn’t spark much interest, but I picked up a chocolate chip cookie from Nelson the Seagull earlier and ate this with gelato after. I’m just proving my dedication to dessert because I just know some of you would be shocked to see that I “skipped it”. Pfft. C’mon now, whose blog are you reading?