UPDATE: BaoBQ has closed.BAOBQ
229 First Avenue
New York, NY 10003
Michael Bao seems to open a new restaurant downtown every few months and to be blunt, none of them ever impress me. The food's edible, but if you sold the same eats out of a food truck on Roosevelt Avenue on a Tuesday, no one would remember it by Wednesday. And so it is with BaoBQ on 14th and 1st. Forgettable food served in a setting so mediocre that it's almost laughable.
Walking inside of BaoBQ is something most of the people who eat from here will never actually do. I would bet money that the vast majority order delivery and never have to see the "Grade Pending" sign in the window from the Department of Health (I saw someone taking in an order of "fresh" meat in clear plastic bags from the trunk of a car when I was there, so...). It reminds me of the kind of place set up by moms and pops in Bushwick in 1987, with its poorly painted walls, used furniture and dirty floors. Hardly something I'd expect a chef who fancies himself a celebrity to want to stick his name on, even in irony.
To it's credit, this isn't fast food. So expect to wait 20 minutes, give or take. In the few times that I went there I took to go. Much of the menu is made up of noodle soup, which I never ordered, but not for any real reason other than that I wasn't in the mood. What I did order seemed hit or miss. Sometimes completely mediocre, sometimes recommendable. The Sticky Rice was so bland that it might as well have been very heavy air. Not bitter, not sweet, not anything. It delivered starch and calories from point A to point B bypassing my tongue almost completely. The Steamed Market Vegetables were generic Asian greens likewise devoid of flavor. The Pork Spare Rib Bulgugi was very good on the other hand. Tender, meaty, not fatty. I'd almost certainly get it again.
The Ga Nuong, a charcoal grilled Vietnamese style chicken that was supposed to be spicy was anything but spicy. At least in the burn your mouth sense. Tame, mild, Americanized. I'd say all of those. But spicy? No. But if it wasn't spicy, at least it was also overcooked and dry. Another time, I ordered the Kai Yang, a Thai style rotisserie chicken. And while I couldn't tell the difference between it and what I could get down the block at Boston Market, it was at least moist and the meat fell off the bone.
Other than the spare ribs, your best bet are the sandwiches... probably. The Porky Banh Mi sandwich was very tasty with a but. BUT the bread was "toasted". Or very stale. It was like biting through a brick to get to the goodies between the bread. Once I got there, I was gold, but it took effort and a sliced gum to do so. The bread on the Grilled Pork Meatball sandwich was all nice and tender. I didn't have to fight it . And while I'd argue that there was no meatballs in there (at least not the way you and I think of them) I'd say that it was good. I suppose it's possible that they got the order wrong and just gave me the same sandwich twice, but that would imply a sloppiness of which I am loathe to accuse. Either way, a very good sandwich this time.
Diners should expect to spend about $9 per sandwich or soup. Chicken can be ordered in quarters, halves, or a whole chicken for up to $12.
BaoBQ is cash only as of now, but they do take Level Up.
[ Copyright eateryROW 2012 ]