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.  

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.

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.


Pin Ups at Bao Bei

Pin Ups in the Men's Loo at Bao Bei

I was told about these pin ups a while back and I will admit I am not overly fond of venturing into a men’s loo even on those most desperate times, but heading into the male washroom at Bao Bei was a nice little treat. And it could be also be a nice visual treat for the men that visit it too. (Note to the ladies: if you are at Bao Bei and your man excuses himself for a little longer than usual, he may just be getting an appetite, and you could be going home for a second dinner.)

Sea Monstr Sushi

 I found myself on Friday making a trip to Sea Monstr Sushi to “destroy my hunger” and find some new fodder for this blog.

Sea Monstr Sushi (photo by a.baye)

 First Glance

(photo credit: Daniel L)

If you can judge a restaurant by the quantity of people dining and milling around for take-out, I figured I had chosen a good lunch destination. It was hopping and me and my dining cohort had to wait for a seat at the bar. But it gave us a good chance to look around. A small room–holding about 12 at the bar and roughly the same at table tops in the back–with very sparse decor. Granted, Japanese style errs on the side of minimalism, but somehow the space felt unfinished and slightly stale. The wall opposite the sushi bar–white and bare–screamed for attention. If it were up to me,  I would put an oversized funky adaptation of their logo in graffiti or some mural done in yakuza tattoo style, at the very least some pictures.


But there is one thing that works here, and that is the use of texture.


Scales on the bar at Sea Monstr (photo by a.baye)

The element of texture provides another dimension to the room and Sea Monstr Sushi has done that very well. The combination of the unfinished brick wall and the stainless steel sushi bar gives the room a bold and modern look. But what I loved is the actual texture of the bar itself. Sadly when the bar is filled with patrons there is little hope in seeing it, but peeking underneath, you will be delighted. Yes, those do look like scales right off the back of a sea monster and they continue down the entire length of the bar.

ebi sunomono

Texture also came into the presentation of the food–a colourful ebi sunomono was served in a white rough clay bowl–a harmonious balance with texture and hues. 

In traditional Japanese cuisine, it is said you eat with your eyes first so the visual presentation of your meal is never by happenstance. You know you will get this at your upscale places, but for this little joint, I was pleasantly surprised that they have the presentation zen. 

Sea Monstr isn’t the cheapest sushi option in the city nor is it the coziest locale, but the Negitoro Maki (chopped tuna belly and green onion roll) is six slices of heaven for only $3.50. All in all not a bad deal and the best part, it isn’t served with a side of fake plastic grass. The tea was warm, the service not as quick as you want for a week-day work lunch, but hey, presentation takes time and you just don’t go for the tea.

 NOTE: Just got word 2 days after this post was published that Sea Monstr Sushi launches a new menu built for extra short lunch breaks on Monday, November 29.

Final Thoughts
Where is the “E” in Monstr? (I was told “it was just done that way,” but my question is why?)

The Chinese Head

Woman's Bathroom door at Bao Bei

What is in a name?

Gwangju, South Korea - 2007 (Photo by Amanda Baye)

I snapped this picture several years ago on a trip to Korea. Actually walking past this landmark was no coincidence. My friend had actually planned this as part of the scenic tour–a must see on a large list of things to do. Yes, I was titillated and amused and the only foreigner around taking pictures of the sign. I still have no idea what they serve–I guess chicken, but since I have heard of restaurants serving the delicacies of animals’ dongs, I wasn’t so keen in trying.

But it got me thinking, what is in a name? What makes a name of a restaurant stick in people’s minds? As I trawled the interweb I found a pretty comprehensive collection of tips and advice, which I have compiled below. Now let’s see how “Cock” measures up. 

1. Short – check.
2. Easy to remember – check. (More like hard to forget.)
3. Easy to spell – check.
4. Requires no explanation – FAIL–Imagine the conversation: “I work for Cock just around the corner…”
5. Reflects the theme, food or location – FAIL–unless they do serve up animal genitalia, they’ve nailed it.
6. Starts with a strong consonant – check
7. It’s fun to say and rolls off the tongue – double-check!
8. It creates an impression – absolutely.

According to my list “Cock” gets 6 out of 8. But they get the bonus points for sheer entertainment.

Pit Stop: Tokyo, Japan

Tis Wednesday and we all need a little escape. Check out this restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. I wonder if you are served slop or if they have solitary confinement? Interesting concept, nonetheless.

Meat & Bread: Part 2 – The Details

I knew from first walking into Meat & Bread that there were stories to be had behind the touches of circus sideshow decor, and thus they needed to be uncovered. I returned a few days later and had brief chats with Cord Jarvie and Frankie Harrington who were delighted in sharing the tales.

The Punching Bag – Frankie’s eBay find

eBay Punching Bag and Grandpa's boxing gloves

While working with the designers Glasfurd and Walker, Frankie Harrington was flipping through photos and stumbled upon a punching bag. He immediately wanted one. A few hours, a few glasses of something, and a few eBay pages later, he found one. The minimum bid was $1, and to be on the safe side, he bid $2. The next morning, Frankie was a proud owner of this punching bag. A fantastic score, but the only trouble was it was in Australia. And this is where fate may come into play (and a costly shipping bill) because the boxing gloves latched onto the bag were Cord’s grandfather’s–an ode to the familial roots, perhaps?


Badger? Ferret? Possibly the worst taxidermy in the city.

I suppose there is a gathering of people who profess that taxidermy as being a dying art. Although I was slightly unsettled by eating in the presence of a stuffed beady-eyed badger and gazelle-like creature, I do see it as an homage to our caveman heritage. Oddly, it fits perfectly within this space–Look, I conquered beast, now we eat meat! With a devious grin Cord agreed that it is slightly creepy and shared a brief tale of how some of his more delicate guests at his former abode would get a little freaked out. Yet, with a sense of playful/sarcastic humour Cord seems to have a head start in the collection of “the worst possible taxidermy” in Vancouver.

Curiosity Cabinet

Frankie's father's handball trophies

Frankie was on a roll. After explaining the details of his eBay punching bag he jumped up, “Oh, have you seen this? You have to see this.” He walked over to the far left corner of the restaurant where there was what I will call a curiosity cabinet–it could actually be a window, but I dare not interrupt Frankie’s enthusiasm at this point to clarify.  He opened the cabinet door which housed two trophies. He took them out for me to inspect. “These are my father’s handball trophies. He was big into handball. Do you know handball?” he asked gesturing the cupped hand and scooping of a ball. But before I could answer or ask something else, he was gone, most likely off to greet more customers.

The Meat Sign and Reclaimed Floor Boards

Reclaimed sign and floorboards

Salvaged from a scrap yard, these boys uncovered a light up sign that once touted the name of a highschool team, the “Eagles.” Now it roots for their beloved team, Meat.

Mustard and Floorboards

But that isn’t the only reclaimed piece in this space. There are bits of the original floorboards incorporated into the design. Cord pointed out that the back wall that was once a doorway is now boarded up with them, the shelves holding their fixings, and the frame around the magnetic board–all reclaimed and reused from the original space.

And these are the stories of the objects at Meat & Bread. If my gut tells me anything, I am pretty damn sure that I merely scraped the surface. With the humour and zeal that these guys possess and the synergy and energy they bring to this new endeavour, will surely bring about more stories.

Cord Jarvie-reflection at Meat & Bread

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