Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New Food Fusion in Old Chinatown

Bao Bei stands true to its Chinese and French inspired confusion, I mean fusion, from its sophisticated French country decor, modernization on Chinese home-cooking classics and swanky new-age cocktails. The concept of a Chinese Brassiere seems to work because the eatery has been bustling since day one. 

They don't take reservations so don't be surprised to see a line-up at the door, but be assured it's worth the wait. A good tip is to come early, put your name down on the list and grab a drink or two at the Keefer Bar several doors down. That's what we did during our 20 minute wait.

Chino Margarita
When we returned, our table was ready and as we took our seats, we were greeted by our server who quickly suggested his favourite cocktail, the Chino Margarita, which we ordered with little persuasion. It was like summer in a glass! A refreshing concoction of tangerine tequila, ginger, lime, frothy egg white with a chili salt and sugar rim. 

Bao Bei was conceived by Tannis Ling along with chef Joel Watanabe in 2010. They developed a menu with an interesting mix of Taiwanese, Shanghaniese, Vietmanese and French infused dishes. Our server informed us that the tapa-style meals are meant for sharing and recommended that we order his top five dishes, an optimal amount for two people. 

Bean Curd Skin
We were famished and immediately tucked into our first "schnack",  a light and tasty appetizer of bean curd skin (thin tofu sheets) and king oyster mushroom marinated a delicate truffle vinaigrette. 

Beef Tartare
Like many Asian restaurants, the other four main dishes came to our table as they were cooked. The presentation of the beef tartare was an impressive symphony of colours and textures. A bit of assembly is required to combine the raw quail egg with the Pemberton beef tenderloin. The delightful result was creamy tartare that had some zing from the ginger and shallots. The salty taro chips made for the perfect spoon to scoop up the savoury tartare and fresh watercress salad.  

Steamed Fish
The steelhead salmon dish came in a large bowl swimming in a green soup made from basil, ginger, Shaoxing (rice wine) and chili paste. The fish was impeccably done to my taste, steamed on the outside and rare on the inside, and combined nicely with the silky green puree. 

Shao Bing
When the Shao Bing arrived, it was anything but a boring sandwich! The Shao Bing is a "must order" dish that evokes more Middle Eastern flavours than Chinese or French. The crispy sesame flatbread was an excellent vessel to hold the cumin lamb sirloin while the pickled red onion, green pepper, cilantro, and salted chilies all help to brighten up the sandwich. 

Crispy Pork Belly
I loved the crispy pork belly, another "must-order" dish! The acidity from the pickled red onion with the creaminess from the star anise tomato sauce hold their own but complement nicely with the savoury richness from the crispy pork belly. If you enjoy a fiery kick to your food, drizzle some of the hot chili oil, the only condiment on the table and the perfect flavour boost.

Bao Bei's fashionable patrons, electric atmosphere and expertly composed touches of Tannis' vintage family photos and modern furnishings keep this eatery busy day after day. It's worth the trek and the wait time for your table to experience Bao Bei's new world of food fusion in Old Chinatown.

Visit Candice's Cusina for more food photos from Bao Bei, www.candicescusina.blogspot.com.

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
163 Keefer Street, Vancouver
No reservations, Monday-Saturday 5:30 pm - Midnight

Candice's Recommendations:
Bean Curd Skin $4; Beef Tartare $14; Steamed Fish $18; Shao Bing $12; Crispy Pork Belly $16.

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie 寶貝小館 on Urbanspoon

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