The Bao is the East Village outpost of the Flushing Queens dumpling restaurant, Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao. The Bao is a calm retreat from the hustle and energy of Saint Marks Place, the ceiling is a lattice of dark wood and the walls are roughened cement with bamboo steamer lids re-purposed as wall decorations. The decor centerpiece is a print by the Sichuan-born avant-garde artist Yin Jun, from his series of images of children with their heads thrown back shrieking and tears spritzing from their squeezed-shut eyes.
The Dumplings: The Bao sells the classic Xiao Long Bao varieties – pork and pork and crab – and nouveau forms including, hot chili flavor, another variety spiked with wasabi, and for desert, dumplings filled with liquid chocolate and banana. They also sell pan fried pork dumpling, steamed vegetable dumplings, and pork and vegetable wontons in spicy sauce. I tried the classic pork Xiao Long Bao and the wontons in spicy sauce.
– Pork Xiao Long Bao For me picking up the first soup dumpling from a hot bamboo steamer is a stressful moment – will the wrapper be too thin and rip, disgorging its soup into the steamer or will the wrapper be too thick and rubbery? At The Bao the house rolled wrappers were perfect, silky thin purses that held onto their soup and meat filling. The soup itself was pretty thin and far less fatty than some of the best soup dumplings I have eaten, almost a consomme soup, but somehow The Bao packs a ton of flavor into their aspic stock. On top of the flavorful soup, the meat filling is excellent too, these are some of the best soup dumplings going, don’t believe hype about Din Tai Fung, The Bao is better.
– Wontons in Spicy Sauce The wontons were good, but did not reach true greatness. I found the wonton wrappers to be a little chewy and the pork filling tasted washed out compared to the filling in the soup dumplings. The spicy sauce was actually pretty mild heat-wise, but really flavorful, and tasted like it was flavored with XO Sauce. After I finished eating the wontons I ended up spooning up all of the sauce, a straw would have been useful.
The Location: The Bao is in New York’s East Village neighborhood on the historic Saint Mark’s Place. The Bao is one of the few Chinese restaurants in this area which is quickly becoming a Little Tokyo neighborhood full of casual Japanese Izakaya and Ramen joints.