It was tempting to wait for Chinatown Night Market vendors to set up their orange tents, or possibly until my double dip in Blood Alley to eat, but Bao Bei led me to a logical conclusion: restraint be damned. During my brief British Columbian foray, several people already touted Tannis Ling’s Chinese brasserie on Keefer Street, situated in a former Chinatown tofu shop, so why fight it?
Prior to my arrival, Bao Bei had already been open for a year and a half. “Bao Bei” means precious in Chinese, and while the food may have been fairly delicate and refined, the interior was pretty far from it. The front room featured a polished black-steel, L-shaped bar, a wall lined with printing press molds, a lounge and a trio of high-top tables. Further back, customers found green cushioned booths and banquettes, green wood beams, and a flower at each table. If any aspect of the decor could be considered “bao bei,” it would probably be the flowers.
Executive Chef Joel Watanabe oversees a pretty tight menu of share-friendly dishes. Unfortunately, I was eating solo. My only pick from the Schnacks (cool appetizer) section involved firm slices of Marinated Eggplant ($4) treated with soy, garlic and raw ginger strands for crunch and spice.
A section titled Petits Cadeaux (“small presents” in French) yielded delicate pan fried Pork Potstickers ($6) filled with pork, cabbage, garlic, ginger and more than 10 other ingredients. The juicy, thin-skinned dumplings appeared with a tangy dish of soy sauce, rice wine and ginger.
With my first “dinner” less than an hour away, it was already pushing it to keep eating, but it was impossible to resist a third plate. Chef Watanabe (or a member of his team) stir-fried tender capes and tentacles of Squid ($14) with firm, meaty chunks of pork belly, chilies, scallions and crunchy baby bok choy. The dish cilantro garnish and lingering heat
Three dishes into a good meal, my mental list of regrets mounted while reading the rest of the menu, which also included Petits Plats Chinois, Hot Bowls, Vegetables, Sides and Desserts, all “made in Chinatown with love.” However, it was time for me to clock out.
The check comes with a postcard, a black and white photo of owner’s grandparents.
Flip the postcard to find “useful phrases for social interaction” in Chinese. My favorite phrases were “It’s not you it’s me,” “I’m not drunk yet,” and “You are very pretty.” All useful in the past, and they will be again.
On the way out, I walked by a stand at the Night Market selling Hong Kong egg cakes, which were the long lost “waffles” I used to eat as a kid in New York City’s Chinatown. Unfortunately, two more dinners dictated that a reconnection with my youth would have to wait.
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