Clamshell Mantou stuffed
With tasty Asian fillings.
Good lunch at Bao Down.
It seems my prayers for more grab and go/quick lunch options in Gastown has been answered. Bao Down is the latest eatery to open near my office that offers the opportunity to partake in a fast lunch.
Bao Down offers banh mi style sandwiches and an assortment of sides but the main draw is their baos. The traditional Taiwanese Gua Bao is stuffed with braised pork belly, but the fillings at this Gastown spot strays a bit from the original and is more pan Asian West coast fusion (sounds about right for Vancouver).
Overall I found 2 baos made for a satisfying meal. The mantou vessel that holds together all the ingredients is soft and fairly neutral in taste, with just a hint of sweetness.
The bao that probably elicits the most grins when ordered is the Bao Chicka Bao Bao. With crispy white meat chicken as the main ingredient, it’s probable the safest thing to order if you are new this type of food.
Unfortunately I felt it was pretty bland. Although crispy on the outside, the chicken was a dry and under seasoned. The garlic mayo was flavourful and helped moisten the chicken a bit. The ribbons of carrot and diakon were aesthetically pleasing, added crunch, but I wished they were pickled. I think the tartness would have been a nice contrasting flavour.
Staying with the deep fried fillings, the Jaws was more flavourful. The catfish was crunchy but still had moist flaky meat. The cabbage and micro greens added another level of crunch and freshness. The kimchi tartar sauce added creaminess and sour punch of flavour. The Jaws was a complex tasting bao.
The YVR which featured well prepared seared albacore tuna with wasabi mayo, soy, sesame seeds micro greens and clumps of bacon. This bao had lots of strong flavours, which surprisingly worked well together. I was particularly worried about the bacon. I love bacon but it shouldn’t be put on everything since it can be overwhelming. In the case of the YVR, the few clumps of bacon bits added pops of saltiness and smokiness that enhanced the overall flavour profile of the offering.
The last bao I tried was Two Worlds Collide. I like one of the worlds, the braised pork belly, and not so much the other, the crispy pork belly. The crispy pork belly I found dry. The skin was hard and jarring. It did not have the nice crunchy crystalline crackling.
The braised pork on the other hand was great. The fat was melt in you mouth good. Bao Down used a braising liquid similar to the one used for Soya Sauce Chicken at Chinese BBQ shops. I could really taste the star anise. I wish there was a bao that exclusively featured the braised pork belly.
As for the sides I liked the Wu-Tang Clam Chowder a lot. It’s getting warm in Vancouver, so I’m not sure how much longer it will stay on the menu. Using surf clam and coconut milk, this chowder is light, packed full of umami flavour, and loaded with ingredients. Much like the rest of the Bao Down menu, the soup has an Asian take with bean sprouts, cloud ear fungus, lemongrass, and ginger which adds more complexity to item’s taste and texture.
The kimchi fries can be meal on it’s own if you order the large size, is chock full of ingredients like bean sprouts, kimchi and roast pork. I liken this to Asian poutine and instead of gravy, the fries are doused with garlic mayo and sweet soy.
Overall I found the side kind of meh. I wish the fries were crisper and the kitchen need to lay off the soy as the bottom layer of fries soaked it all up making them unbearably salty.
Obliviously I didn’t eat all this food in one sitting. All this consumption happen over several visits since Bao Down opened in late March. From my experience and as I compared my notes to my pictures and then to their website, consistent execution and delays from the kitchen are issues.
There are ingredients missing from the baos that are listed in the menu. For example, my YVR bao was missing avocado like it stated on their chalkboard. In another instance, my Two Worlds Collide did not include the crispy pork or jalapeno. In addition, although listed as pickled on the menu, most of the time I couldn’t detect a tartness in the carrots or diakon.
I also don’t understand why it sometimes takes as long as it does for food to come out of the kitchen. With the exception of the deep fried fillings, I assume most of the ingredients are already made and as such, pumping out baos in the quick fashion should not be an issue.
With that said I do believe the restaurant is trying to focus on the details. On one visit, the owner sent back food to the kitchen when he noticed things were missing making sure his customers got what they ordered.
Since Bao Down has only been open for about 2 months, I hope that the kitchen will settle in, work out the kinks and improve their execution and attention to detail.
Despite the hiccups and missing ingredients, what was served was still enjoyable. I definitely would return for the Jaws, YVR, Wu-Tang Chowder, and generally like the food concept that Bao Down is serving up.