There were three of us heading out for a pseudo Chinese New Year's Eve dinner, and we weren't sure where to eat. I guess for more traditional meals and all it would be one of those Chinese restaurants with the suckling pig and lobster noodles or something like that, but we were kind of short on time and people. So running a quick search on google gave me Bao Bei. I've never been there, so I thought, why not?
The place is smallish and located in Chinatown along Keefer. If you've ever been downtown for the Chinatown nightmarket, you'll probably notice it. There is a teal and pink lit sign, and the interior of the restaurant is quite dim with strong red tones from all the red lanterns. Bao Bei actually offers a CNY menu available until Feb 2 ($35/head), but with the food preferences between the three of us we elected to order from the regular menu instead.
There are quite a few interesting sounding items, and we were informed that the mala tendons are removed from the menu and they are thinking up a replacement. We elected to get the shao bing, the mantou, the kick ass house fried rice (on the receipt it reads as "flied lice"), and the crispy pork belly. We were informed that the servings were quite small and their recommendation is 6 dishes for 3 people for a full meal. The mantou comes with 2 pieces on a plate, so you may want to order accordingly. We had a peanut allergy so the 2 buns was okay for the three of us.
They gave us glasses on the table with large water bottles that they were quick to replace and refill our glasses at the same time. The place was pretty busy, and it was a little on the noisy side. The lack of light made taking pictures a little difficult.
The tables were really small. Optimally for two people it's okay, with three it was a little squished. I guess they seat parties of more at larger sized tables or just divide the party into groups for the small tables.
The shao bing arrived first, and they cut it into three portions for us. The cumin on the lamb is a pretty classic pairing, and I think it was done well. The bread and sesame seeds were quite oily and the seeds were falling off all over the place and sticking to our fingers, which made them a bit difficult as finger foods. The taste was quite good, and milder than I thought. The cumin taste came through pretty well, and overall it wasn't overwhelming.
The "flied lice" arrived. I really liked the bamboo shoot on top. It was very soft, not fibrous, and the pickled taste was really delicious. I didn't get a "duck" taste from the rice. It was also very oily. The overall taste was okay, and a server dropped by to tell us that their house made chili oil went well with the dish. I tried a bit. The chili scores a... 6/10 on the hotness scale from me, with a mild "nothing" that builds into a pleasing burn. But for the typical person you might want to be a bit more sparing and careful. But if you're used to heat, spoon it in! The flavour was fairly generic. The tastiest thing here was the bamboo shoot which I thought was well done, and the acid from it really cut through all the oil in the bowl. But the rice kernels were pretty much glistening from the oil.
The mantou arrived next. I asked Anata to compare with the ones at Momo-Fuku that he had in Toronto. He said the buns were superior, but the meat/stuffing at Momo-Fuku was superior. So I guess it's a tie, haha. The buns were indeed very soft, and were like delicate and fluffy clouds enfolding the stuffing. The stuffing was fairly tasty, but the flavours didn't stand out and amaze me that much. There was a decent amount, and a few bits and pieces fell onto the plate. Maybe a stronger sauce or flavour to bring it out? I think actually if it had the sauce from the pork belly they'd really have a winning dish.
Speaking of the pork belly, I really liked the sauce and the pickled onions that it came with. The pork was quite well done as well, a bit seared and crispy on the outsides, but still flavourful and moist enough on the insides. It was definitely elevated by the sauce on the plate. The star anise and five spice blend came through very strongly, and people who are not used to these flavours might find it overpowering, but I really enjoyed it. I thought the sauce made the plate.
Overall we found out experience at Bao Bei okay, but the prices are a little high. Our 4 dishes with no drinks came to about $55 which is a little steep. But for a tasting experience, I would recommend trying the dishes here, as they do to present some traditional flavours in a tasteful manner. My highlights of the night would be the pork belly sauce and the pickled bamboo.