The Courier’s Restaurant Review by MERV HECHT-BAO
The Courier’s Restaurant Review by MERV HECHT
Foodies have long debated the philosophical question: what contributes the most to a restaurant’s success, “location location location” or the food? Bao has taken over a space in a location already proven as it’s across from JAR—-consistently one of the hottest restaurants in town. But just in the last several years this very same space hosted a series of failed restaurants including a Korean BBQ. The manager of that last failure, Howard Chan, had an idea: why not use essentially the same décor and put in a Dim Sum parlor. And, most innovative of all, why not serve dim sum at dinner time – not just at lunchtime, as is the custom. So they serve dim sum all day and night and it’s a big success!
So it’s the food, stupid. But how is the food here? That’s the question I asked the Chinese-American couple at the next table while I sipped my beer. “It’s easier than driving to Arcadia to go to Din Tai Fung “one replied.
The restaurant is quite attractive in a faux Asian-mélange kind of way. It’s fully functional in a very American kind of way. There’s a full bar on one side, separated from the main room. There are booths along the wall, a small room in the back that used to be the Corky Hale Jazz Club) and 10-12 tables in the center with attractive round wooden table tops set on the tables left in place from the days the place served as a Korean restaurant with the BBQ burners which act as a base and look a little odd, but are perfectly serviceable. The cost of ripping up the floor to get at the electrical wiring explains this somewhat unusual configuration. We sat in a booth and while the booth seat was comfortable, Bonnie asked for a seat cushion.
The menu includes a section offering fried “crispy” dim sum, steamed dim sum, and a few other dishes, including what looked like a very rich, flavorful hot and sour Chinese style soup that was ordered by several patrons at neighboring tables.
We ordered three plates: the mushroom, shrimp, and crab dim sum. And I also ordered the honey walnut shrimp because it looked so good at the next table. But looks are deceiving, as anyone knows that used to listen to The Shadow.
After smelling the mushroom dim sum we quickly sent it back, and the manager just as quickly arrived to apologize, explaining that something had gone wrong with the steaming liquid. The shrimp dim sum was quite delicious, but it was so big that I couldn’t put it in my mouth whole, and cutting it in two with chopsticks created quite a mess. But I liked it. The crab dim sum was less well made. Again, it too was too big to eat whole, but the crab inside was delicious.
Then the honey walnut shrimp arrived. This was lightly breaded in something that was a bit mushy, it tasted sweet and “shrimpy” as expected but would benefit from preparation in hotter oil yielding crispy shrimp.
We talked to the high-energy manager about his concept of dim sum. He explained that he prefers dim sum served in the covered bamboo pots – as is traditional – but unlike a traditional dim sum restaurant, he prefers that the food arrive straight from the kitchen to the diners’ table. He believes that this system is an important tweak to the traditional way. Instead of placing the dim sum on ever-roving carts, the diner gets dim sum that’s fresher as it hasn’t been sitting on a cart for awhile. He has a point, but of course when you are in a traditional dim sum house the carts appear table side constantly, providing immediate service, and you can see it before you order it.
OK, I know it sounds as if I’m negative about it. Actually I’m not. I think I was unlucky in my selections, and I only ate there once. The place was packed on a Sunday at lunch time, and the customers seemed to really like the food. I noticed that the fried foods were very popular, and they looked good. And remember, the restaurant has only been opened for a couple of months, and they are still getting their act together. I will go back when I’m in the neighborhood and feeling like dim sum. The customer reviews on the internet are sensational, and I believe in the jury system so I’m convinced that people like it.
Expect to pay about $15 per person at lunch – prices are very reasonable. And it’s a lot closer than Din Tai Fung in Arcadia!
The Courier’s restaurant critic, Mervyn Hecht, has been a consultant to several national food and wine importing companies for the past 22 years.
Bao Dim Sum House
8256 Beverly Boulevard
Mon-Sun 11 am – 3 pm
“Mon-Thu 5 pm – 10 pm
“”Fri-Sat 5 pm – 10:30 pm
“”Sun 5 pm – 9:30 pm