Thursday, July 23, 2009
Bao Noodles - Vietnamese Delight
Bao Noodles - 391 2nd Avenue, New York NY 10010
6 Train to 23rd Street
Lisa and I embarked on a Vietnamese adventure at Bao Noodles last week. The evening offered up deliciousness and surprises, as we tried dishes that were brand spankin' new to both of us.
Although Bao is an Asian restaurant, it feels very much like a bistro. The long mirrors, the wooden bar, the dim lighting and the mosaic-tile floor all work together to create a comfy bistro vibe.
Lisa and I sat in a booth towards the front of the restaurant, where we had privacy but at the same time, people-watched to our heart's content. There's a trend that we observed amongst the clientele--they're young, hip, not pretentious and totally into Bao. It appeared that a lot of people were regulars who lingered for quite a bit, leading me to the conclusion that Bao is a beloved neighborhood hangout.
We were super psyched about our tasting menu, which offered a sampling of Bao's specials that are still under experimentation. All ingredients tasted fresh and most of them come straight from Chinatown.
Appetizers - The fist thing we tried was a green soy bean salad, which was super simple, and fresh. It was a nice way to start because it offered light and clean flavors, originating not only from the beans but also from the crunchy jicama and red onions. My only complaint was that it was a bit hard to eat with chopsticks and a fork might've been helpful.
Our second appetizer, Malanga with a sesame cracker and pickled eggplant, hit it out of the park. The malanga (or taro) was our favorite, as it tasted like a light bean paste and provided the most delicious spread for the sesame cracker. Our taro nibbles got even better once we piled on the curried tofu sauce and the tangy pickled eggplant. I loved the texture party in my mouth--soft and smooth from the taro, spongy from the tofu, and crunchy from the pickled eggplant. One word--awesome!
The shrimp paste noodle soup was yet another starter that we enjoyed. The broth was the best part, as it was flavorful, comforting and not too salty. There were plenty of fresh scallions and cilantro in it, providing a nice crunch and an earthy taste. The shrimp paste had a definite kick and its texture was almost meat-like--quite interesting and different from the norm.
The first entree was the salt and pepper soft shell crab. We both dived in enthusiastically, first for the crab and then for the tangy bed of slaw. I adore cabbage and thought it made for a nice pairing with the crab, again juxtaposing different textures--the soft crab with the crunchy slaw. The crab itself was seasoned exquisitely with Asian spices and plenty of fresh cilantro.
Pan roasted quail with choi sam was our second entree and though we had doubts--I've tried quail before without much liking--the first bite changed our perceptions. The quail meat was cooked to perfection, maintaining enough juiciness to preserve its flavor yet lacking gaminess. The bed of bok choy (Chinese cabbage) was delightful, as it balanced out the heartier meat with fresh, healthy flavor.
Not sure how we managed to eat two desserts but they included the Durian sorbet as well as the yucca waffle with blueberry sauce. The durian sorbet was fragrant and refreshing - tasting slightly like coconut. It wasn't overly sweet, but had a hint of bitterness that surprised the senses.
The yucca waffle was incredibly rich and slightly buttery, resembling an Eggo waffle. The best part was the blueberry sauce, which was sweet and the aromatic--and the scoop of lavender ice cream made it more luxurious.
The drinks were another highlight of our experience, and for the most part, they were summery and exciting. One in particular that I enjoyed was the Summertime, featuring kiwi-strawberry infused sake, fresh kiwi, strawberry and prosecco. It was light, fizzy and went down easy. I also enjoyed the Sake Sangria, which was white in color with fresh fruit on top. It was a tad sweet for my liking, yet it was another thirst-quenching, sexy drink.
Service and Cost:
The waitstaff wasn't overly social but they were detail oriented and methodical. We enjoyed speaking to the owners, Chris and Chris, who also helped to explain the dishes to us and communicated the evident passion and enthusiasm they've infused into this place. Overall, all dishes came out in good time and nothing warranted complaints.
Costs on the regular menu are gentle on the wallet and very conducive to today's challenging economy. Appetizers range between $4.95 - $11.95 and entrees will set you back between $7.95 -$16.95 (including anything from traditional Vietnamese dishes to seafood to pho, noodles or soup.