Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ninja Pigs at Bao Down

Bao Down on Urbanspoon Bao Down is a small little place that has seating upstairs (and no table service -- so don't just go upstairs and wait forever for some to come up and take your order).
If it's your first time, definitely have a peek upstairs at the wall art of ninja pigs.

Yeah: Ninja. Pigs.

The concept of Bao Down is easier to explain with pictures. If you've seen that type of bun before, you'll know it immediately. If not, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.

Price is... pricey if you look at the steamed bao individually. Your experience will be better if you commit to a meal.
Huh? Okay, let me explain.
With each steamed bao you are getting basically half the amount of bread and a third the amount of filling of a burger, at about half the price of a gourmet burger. You could also compare it to tacos, in which case one of these bao is priced at about two to three times the price of a soft-shelled taco, with the same amount of filling but more carbs (bread / bun). Either way, price for what you get looks bleak when you consider the bun-to-filling ratio. The minimum order is two bao, so lunch / brunch will set you back $10+ for sure (or you could bring a friend).
But you'd have to be a light eater to be satisfied with just 1-2 steamed bao, so expect to actually spend $15-$20+ for a proper meal of 3-4 of them. When that happens however, you will feel better because you'll be stuffed from the bread (bao). Then tasty + interesting + FILLING = great pricing. It's magic!

If you actually want a lighter meal, there is the gluten-free option of swapping out your bao / bun with lettuce instead (like having your burger fillings in lettuce instead of a regular bread bun).
Either way, don't wait too long before eating your bao once it comes out of the kitchen -- the steamed bun tends to get sticky on the outside and stick to the paper dishes. And lettuce wraps tend to leak (just saying).

Bao Chicka Bao Bao ($6) Fried lemongrass and garlic marinated free range Fraser Valley chicken breast, crispy garlic, palm sugar & fish sauce glaze, fresh cilantro, garlic scape mayo, pickled carrots and scallions.
  • What I mostly tasted here was something sweet. Whatever nuances of lemongrass, garlic mayo, etcetera was mostly lost on me. Still, pretty tasty.
  • Nicely fried slab of chicken, but smallish looking. Size of one of those chicken wings you get at a chicken wings place, but obviously with no bone.
Jaws ($5) Coconut crusted Ocean Wise Vietnamese catfish, kimchi tartar sauce, Food Pedalers microgreens & cabbage in a Thai vinaigrette.
  • "Vietnamese catfish" is basa. It sounds sexier to say "Vietnamese catfish", though.
  • Overall this tasted better than the chicken one as I actually had the taste and experience of the catfish, which was very nicely fried and still juicy.
Kimchi Fries ($4.50 small, $8 large) House made double-fried kennebec potato fries, crispy pork belly, sweet soy, crispy garlic, bean sprouts, garlic scape mayo and scallions
  • We were there right when they opened, and the crispy pork belly here was... old? Meat was definitely drier and tougher than expected. Thin layer of crispy fat but hardly any soft fat.
  • There was definitely some spicy kimchi here, but I think everything else piled onto these fries (sweet soy?!) was overkill and kinda ruined it.
  • If you like interesting poutines, this is it.
Soup of the Day: Hainanese Chicken Soup ($5?)
  • Tasted like chicken soup with way too much stuff in it (tons of bean sprouts).
  • Obviously won't be just broth or broth with some chicken (which may have made people think "rip off"). But it also doesn't make you think Hainanese chicken.
Overall the steamed bao are nicely composed and tasty, but individually they are priced for tourists in Gastown. I can see how the pricing would be easier to handle if they were a food cart where prices are generally higher to begin with and eats are "to-go" casual.

Free water from coolers with either watermelon or pomegranate + lime. Go for watermelon unless they refresh their pomegranate + lime cooler.

Aside: A friend who was at Eat! Vancouver 2015 claims that they were about 25% bigger during Eat! Vancouver than what they are serving in store now. Can anyone else confirm?

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