Bao Bei – First Impressions

First Impressions – Some say it takes about two minutes to form your opinion and about four minutes for this impression to be locked in. 

Bao Bei has been on my “to-do” list for some time now and with the recent article in enRoute as one of Canada’s best new restaurants, it was time to head to the not-as-dodgy-as-it-used-to-be end of town for a little feast.  

Signage
In the darkness of a dreary Vancouver evening, the neon sign marking Bao Bei’s locale at 163 Keefer Street provided a cheerful beacon. There is no doubt that these colourful luminous tubes are making a comeback all the while providing some ambient light to a shadowy street and giving the hood a bit more curb appeal.

Bao Bei - Neon Sign (photo by Amanda Baye)

 

A Full House
We arrived early, anticipating it to be busy, but it was packed. And it was only 6ish. The host greeted us (efficiently, but with little warmth), explained that the first seating was now in full swing and expected it would be about 45 minutes till a table was available. He took my name, and suggested we wait at the bar in the meantime. No salesmanship required—I was game to try a cocktail or three.

Yeah to Hooks!
As I walked towards the bar to settle in, there was one thing that caught my eye – hooks. Yep, that simple little detail that shouldn’t be overlooked. Thank you! I tucked my jacket, umbrella and bag away and pulled back the Victorian floral covered stool.

The Icy Bar
Despite my mother’s objections to elbows on any eating surface and my claim that a bar is not a formal dining table, I placed my elbows freely on the bar and just as quickly, removed them. The matte steel slab was not a cozy, warm place for elbows to rest.

In a debate with my dining cohort, I agree, it is a practical surface—easy to keep clean and maintain—and you don’t want to design a bar for comfort if food/dining at a table is the focus; get the patrons out of the holding area and to the tables. But if you are expecting people to wait for at least 45 minutes over a cocktail and maybe a “schnack,” of Crispy Fishies at the bar, you would think that comfort would come into play. I digress, and after all they did have hooks.

First glimpses

Bao Bei 008
The space seems to mimic the concept of the fried rice of the day – a hodgepodge of odds and ends thrown together but in the end, it works. The warehouse-like room (complete with lofty rafters and concrete floor) is filled with vintage decor, seemingly from grandma’s attic or garage sale finds, yet retains clean lines and an uncluttered feel. Metallic plates and trays hang on one wall and an installation of white kitchen knives borders another.  

Little vignettes of pictures, plates and kitschy objects dot the room. It truly is a place to let you eyes roam. Look up, look around, look down and see what is tucked away or displayed – you will be amazed.  (Check out Bao Bei’s gallery for some more pictures.) The great thing here is that the first glimpses merely scratch the surface, but with time and more inspection the layers of details will be peeled back. And don’t forget to take a visit to the powder rooms–men, you will be in a nice little surprise. (Click here if you wish to ruin it.)

Faux pas 
Remember I said I gave my name at the door–I was the one that talked the host? Well about 30 minutes into our cocktails the host comes up, puts his hand on my friend’s back to get her attention, looks at her, forces a smile and says, “Amanda, your table is ready.” Ooops! Not good. I know matching names to faces can be tough, (maybe tougher since all us wide-eyed blonde girls look the same), but if you are trying to be friendly and create a rapport with your customer by personalizing things, make sure you get the right person! If you know names/faces is not your strong point, at least jot a note beside my name (short hair, purple sweater, or seat #X).  But the incident got me thinking and I realized that even if he screwed up the rapport part of the dinership, he managed expectations well. We expected a 45 minute wait, but we got to our table in about 30.

Food
It’s not a lengthy menu, but making a decision was tough. We went with the Sichuan pickles, poached chicken salad, squid, steamed prawn and chives dumplings and crispy pork belly followed by fried bananas with lime and coconut sorbet (HEAVEN). Between the three of us we cleared the plates (tempted to lick the crispy pork belly plate), downed a couple of glasses of red, a few bottles of beer and cocktails prior and left completely stuffed. Total cost: $146.

The three of us chose three different dishes as our favourites, but we did agree on two things: 1. We will go back and 2. If we were to do it again, the dishes with the delicate and mild tastes would be ordered first then build up to the richer and spicier items. But maybe that was our wide-eyed faux pas.

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