Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tasting Menu at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie - part 2

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie on Urbanspoon
This is the second in a three-part blog post about Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie and my experience of their tasting menu. In the first part, we talked about the restaurant in general. Here I'll go through the appys, desserts, and a few plates. In the last part I'll go through the rest of what we had.
Yes, there really were that many items as part of our tasting menu that I'm separating it into two long posts. I'm even sure I'll end up forgetting one or two things. The prices are based on the May 2012. We had a set $30 + tax + tip tasting menu price.

The family table used for the tasting menu has two key items in the middle. One is what looks like a large, stainless steel desktop pencil holder, but its compartments are divided into chopsticks and Chinese style ceramic soup spoons. When a plate of stuff comes to the table, whoever gets it first should either grab a pair of chopsticks or a soup spoon to use as the serving ware for that plate as people can get uptight about sharing with their own chopsticks nowadays even though around the world that sort of double-dipping is pretty much the norm. There's plenty on the table, so use it.
The other item on the table is an easily overlooked and forgotten small pot of chili. It wasn't all that spicy, and it really did enhance the experience of very many dishes, so I recommend you at least try drizzling a bit of the oil, if not the actual flakes and seeds, onto some items, such as veggies, potstickers, or the sticky rice cake.

What isn't on the table is a paper napkin dispenser. You start with a very small share plate and a really large and sturdy napkin. It's not hard to make that last if you don't have a big spill, but you probably won't see another (unless you ask the waitress) until they clear the table for dessert.

Appetizers ("Schnacks")
Overall, I think they should have taken a chance and gone with one or maybe two appetizers, but in larger quantities to allow for a proper taste of each.
  • Assorted Pickles - $4 - a variety of seasonal Chinese pickles
    • I can see how something sour/tangy at the start can help whet the appetite, but this is pretty tricky to share if everyone is focussed on making sure everyone gets to try everything. It's a selection, with nothing special about each individual piece, per se. So you end up with whatever is left on the plate (I got something that looked like a very tiny slice of an orange, except it was pink). On the up side, you aren't missing anything, really, even if you think you are.
    • Because of this sort of confusion, I would have preferred if they had dropped this and instead given us an extra plate of either the eggplant or the bean curd skin.
  • Marinated Eggplant - $4 - soy, garlic and ginger
    • All I remember of this was that I had a slice. Trying to share two small plates of this with 12 people sometimes means you don't get to properly appreciate what you end up with.
  • Bean Curd Skin - $4 - king oyster mushroom and truffle vinaigrette
    • Looked incredibly boring, but the use of truffle gives this an unexpected taste. If you really like truffles, this will probably score higher with you. I've had a disappointing run with truffles so far, so I can't really score this one without bias.
Petits Cadeaux
  • Steamed dumplings - $7.50
    • We got three small steaming trays of these. Not sure which type they were (presently two on the menu -- prawns and pork) because I didn't get any. I think because they were so small and bite-sized that some people picked up several to get a good taste of it (and maybe because they were just so tasty). Bad coordination on our part, I guess.
  • Vegetable potstickers - $6
    • Comes with sauce. Use the sauce. Otherwise a bit on the bland side. I think there were maybe three extra for our table of 12, so you definitely got just a taste of this and if you forgot to use the sauce, that's too bad. I always try to taste things at least once without any condiments, so I skipped the sauce.
We had one plate of token veggies, quite possibly spinach. Not sure what they were (not on the May 2012 PDF menu as far as I could tell). In some sauce and there were just two red chillies in it but no real heat. Everyone pulled off the leaves, leaving a plate of thick stems. Oy vey.

The official story here was that we were at the end of dinner, and their experience was that patrons who did the tasting menu were generally good with/had room only for just bite of dessert at the end. Since we didn't finish the rice that came with the last course before dessert, they probably figured they were right.
I think they were still aiming to give us variety, but in the process inadvertently sacrificed quality of experience. Two or three regulation sized small bowls of panna cotta divided by 12 people doesn't add up to more than a big spoonful.
Hard to say what a regular $7 portion was like but I think each plate that came to the table works out to one regular portion.
  • Youtiao (Chinese Donut) - $7 - condensed milk caramel, ginger and palm sugar soymilk
    • These came in fours, wrapped in brown paper tied by a red string.
    • Youtiao is commonly fried in pairs of long dough pressed together, but they tear apart easily and cleanly when you pull on them (and there's a historical reason why they are paired).
    • We got two pairs, stacked into a bundle of four, and cut in half lengthwise to end up with two packets of four short sticks. I could see how this could easily be one length per person, and you can dip each end in a different sauce. Problem was, there were 12 of us and not everyone knew they could be pulled apart, so we had clumsy attempts to cut them. In any case, I got just half a length (i.e., one eighth of a bundle).
    • Strangely, no one wanted to use the sauces as dips, but instead poured them onto their portion on their plates. Which turned out badly for both sauces (one a thick sticky sauce that doesn't pour well, the other a watery sauce that goes all over the place). In any case, pouring got you too much sauce, I think.
    • My advice is to treat this as finger food. Tear off a full length and dip.
    • The "traditional" style is more porous and chewier, but the more donut-like bread-like style at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie allows it to soak up the sauce (especially the watery soymilk) much more easily. As a treat, this is simple but delicious and theoretically easy to share.
  • Housemade Panna Cotta - $7
    • It was green, so my guess would be some green tea concoction. Just two bowls of this if I remember correctly, so I declined to have more than just a taste.

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