If Chinatown’s new dumpling spot in a deli is a little too homegrown for you, you may feel more at home at The Bao, which opened on St. Marks yesterday. The East Village offshoot of Flushing’s two-year-old Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao specializes — as the name implies – in soup dumplings a la Joe’s Shanghai. The vibe, however, is considerably less dumpy than your average dumpling house.
“Before we opened the restaurant,” said general manager Richard Lam, “We found a lot of the xiao long bao didn’t taste good. A lot of places just take frozen xia long bao and they steam it and they serve it to you and you look at them and it’s like crap. Joe’s is more the old-style Shanghainese food – what we want to do is make a more young, attractive modern xiao long bao place.”
To that end, The Bao preps fresh ingredients in the morning and makes its dumplings to order, for proper consistency. “When you pick it up it should look like a balloon and when you pull it, it shouldn’t break,” said Lam.
The restaurant – which introduced the chocolate xiao long bao to Flushing – is debuting a wasabi-and-pork soup dumpling here. It’s a nod to the local Japanese population and one of several pan-Asian touches that the owner — from Hong Kong — has put on the menu.
“The menu might be a little bit confusing for the Asians because they come in and say, ‘Oh what kind of food do you serve? Is it Hunan? is it Szechuan? is it Taiwanese food? But we’re actually a kind of mixture,” Lam said.
Indeed, you’ll find Shanghai-style sticky rice dumplings, Taiwanese-style bitter melon with salty egg yolk, a “super spicy” steamed bun made with an Indian pepper, and Szechuan-style chili-fried chicken and dan dan noodles. The pig knuckle, served in a wooden container, is the sort of thing you’d find at the local izakayas. And another popular dish consists of sliced beef that’s fried and topped with sesame for added crunch. The ice cream is from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
The Bao doesn’t yet serve beer and wine, so for the moment you’ll have to make do with “champagne milk tea,” a non-alcoholic tea in a champagne bottle that, true to its name, is served on ice.
Here’s the menu.
The Bao, 13 St. Marks Pl., bet. Second and Third Aves.; 212-388-9238; open noon to 11pm daily