Little Bao opens in Bangkok

There are a handful of restaurants in this world that I love and always look forward to visiting again. Little Bao, a hole in the wall Chinese burger bar in Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels, is one name on that short list. The good news is, I no longer need to travel to Hong Kong to enjoy the inventive, well-executed food: Little Bao BKK just opened!

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Tucked in the back of the 72 Courtyard community mall on Thong Lor, Little Bao BKK is nearly as hidden as its HK sibling. But once you spot the giant neon bao boy, you know you’ve found it! We visited on the second day of business and the chef, May Chow, saw us from the doorway.

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The space is several times larger than the original location and is designed with a contemporary feel that is influenced by classic Hong Kong diners of the 1950s and 1960s. They still do not take reservations, but with the larger space I suspect a seat will be easier to get than in Hong Kong.

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The menu is largely the same as the original location with just a few extra dishes. The execution meets the same high standards as the original with only a few minor exceptions, all of which are understandable given the newness of the team. Above, yellowtail with black bean ponzu and okra. Tasty combination of textures and flavors.

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The pulled short-rib pan fried dumplings with coleslaw is a favorite from the original menu. The meat is very tender and the dumpling has a crispy side, again offering a contrast of textures that is fun to eat.

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We ordered two of the classic bao, the steamed Taiwanese style buns that are sliced in half and then filled hamburger-style. In the foreground is the pork belly with shiso leek, sesame dressing and hoisin ketchup. In the bak, the Sichuan chicken with black vinegar glaze, Sichuan mayo and coleslaw. Both met expectations, although I found the chicken sauced a little more heavily than in HK, causing a bit of bun failure.

Interestingly, the HK branch makes a bit deal about having a “no bao cutting” policy, but in the new location, knives were provided. I do agree, though, that cutting the bao smashes the bun and destroys the product’s integrity.

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One special item is the “under the bridge” crab fried rice with chili garlic, black bean and shiso. The texture of the fried garlic is a pleasing contrast but it was a bit overpowering after a few bits. Also, you’ll notice that the “shiso” isn’t shiso at all, but green onion tips. We inquired about this and after a few minutes, the wait staff explained that the kitchen was out of shiso. Which is a shame, because the citrus flavor of shiso would have helped tame some of the heat of the garlic.

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For dessert, we ordered my all-time favorites: the fried ice cream bao. The bao buns are deep-friend, allowed to cool slightly, and then filled with ice cream: green tea with condensed milk in the foreground and salt ice cream with caramel in the background. This was almost as good as in HK but I found the buns a bit oily and the green tea ice cream tastes chalkier than I remember it in HK.

Overall, the restaurant is off to a good start. We noticed a few disconnects where supporting items on the menu did not match the ingredients that arrived on the plate. The staff was less engaging than in HIK and also less proactive. Again, we visited on their second day of business so these are things that we can expect to be resolved soon.

Meanwhile, I recommend this to everyone in Bangkok and any friends who are visiting. If you haven’t caught Little Bao in HK, here’s your chance!

Little Bao BKK
72 Courtyard
Thong Lor
Open daily from 6:00 pm
Reservations not accepted

 

A classic French lunch at Le Soufflé

There is perhaps no dish more French than the soufflé. And one of the best places to have a soufflé at a reasonable price in Paris is Le Soufflé, an elegant dining room located a short walk from the Louvre and Tuileries Garden.

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We found Le Soufflé quite by accident, intending to have lunch at a recommended Asian restaurant just a few doors away. They were full, however, and we popped in at the upscale-looking Le Soufflé based on the charming exterior and the Zagat and other stickers posted by the front door.

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The young man greeting us was friendly and when we explained we had not reserved, he looked around the room and told us that if we could return in twenty minutes, he would have a table for us. After a short stroll around the block, we returned and were rewarded with a generously-sized table in the middle of the room.

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With a clientele that seems mostly made up of local office workers and older-school establishment types, I felt a little self-conscious. (“Look, the American!”) But the friendly and diverse staff made us feel welcome. In fact, the restaurant reminds me a bit of Cafe Jacqueline in San Francisco, in that the staff can seem a bit stern from the outside but they take good care of their guests.

The menu is relatively simple with a limited selection of soups and salads, a selection of savory soufflés and a selection of sweet soufflés. We ordered a set that included a salad and two soufflés.

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The soufflés (mine with a black olive tapenade and Tawn’s with smoked salmon) arrive relatively quickly. You sense that they must be preparing the choux base in advance and then folding in freshly-whipped egg whites. The size looks large, of course, impressively puffed up – but remember that a soufflé is largely air so a person can consume one relatively easily.

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For dessert, I opted for a rhubarb soufflé. This is one of my favorite fruits and was just in season so it appeared on many menus. The tartness of the rhubarb cut through the richness of the soufflé and made for a pleasant end to the meal.

The set lunch including a glass of wine and a coffee to follow was only EUR 28, about US$ 32. For the quality and quantity of food, it was quite a bargain. Le Soufflé is on my must-visit list for a quintessential French experience.

Le Soufflé
36 Rue du Mont Thabor
75001 Paris
+33 1 4260 2719
Closed Sundays

 

Inexpensive dining in Paris: La Kantine

For a less expensive meal while in Paris, La Kantine, a cafeteria on the top floor of Le BHV department store in the Marais district, offers a wide selection at reasonable prices plus a well-lit dining area with a rooftop view of the neighborhood surrounding Hôtel de Ville in the fourth arrondissement.

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The new, modern BHV Marais department store is an update of the old Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville created in 1856. It is a good place to shop for souvenirs – the selection of teas, confections, etc. is extensive so if you want to bring some relatively inexpensive gifts home that aren’t the tacky touristy items, this is a good place to find them.

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The restaurant is a buffet: grab a tray and help yourself to whatever food you like. There are stations on the left that prepare foods to order including pasta dishes. There are a selection of quiches, soups and meat platters. There are different cheeses and desserts, as you would expect. And prices are clearly marked.

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The seating is bright and airy, a combination of communal tables and some smaller tables. There is a good view and one that might feel a bit out of the movie “Ratatouille” – the rooftops of Paris. There is no feeling of being rushed, so you can also use this as a place to catch your breath and plan your attack for the next part of the day.

Information:

Address: 52, Rue de Rivoli
Telephone : 0977 401 400
Located near Métro station Hôtel de Ville (line 1)
Open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 am until 8:00 pm (Wednesdays until 9:00 pm)

 

Holybelly

What would happen if an Australian or American style brunch place landed in the City of Light? No need to hypothesize: head to the 10th arrondissement and visit Holybelly to find great coffee, great breakfasts and friendly service.

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Holybelly is located near the Canal Saint-Martin, a working class neighborhood that has been increasing in popularity over the past few years and is gentrifying at an increasing rate. It still has its rough edges but the yuppies and hipsters of Paris are plentiful.

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The narrow interior leads to a larger, skylit seating area near the kitchen. The restaurant would be at home in Melbourne or San Francisco and differs from most breakfast restaurants in Paris by being coffee obsessive and offering a larger range of foods on the menu.

One notable difference from Parisian peers is the restaurant’s bold friendliness: the board above the coffee bar announces “Welcome to Holybelly, where the customer is always loved but ain’t always right.” The menus also offer similar salutations in both English and French. Tawn and I were first to arrive followed quickly by a rush of customers, most of whom seemed to be regulars, greeted warmly in French and English by the employees.

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The menu is fairly simple. We chose eggs cooked to order with two sides: roasted and pan fried mushrooms with thyme and garlic, and a homemade pork sausage patty. Everything came with beautiful artisanal bread from Du Pain et des  Idees bakery, where we had nearly wound up with a dozen croissants the previous morning. They also offered some varieties of pancakes and homemade granola for breakfast. A brief lunch menu kicks in mid-day.

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The highlight is the savory stack: a stack of griddled pancakes with fried eggs, bacon, homemade bourbon butter and maple syrup. You can turn that into “The Champ” by also ordering a topping of roasted and fried mushrooms. It was a pretty outrageous, and outrageously delicious, dish!

The coffee was fantastic, brewed from locally-roasted beans from la Brulerie de Belleville. Nice to have a proper latte after several days of cafe cremes that showed that Parisian coffee these days isn’t as great as it once was.

If you want to better understand Holybelly, read the facts page on their website, complete with Game of Thrones references. Better yet, fly to Paris and visit them.

Holybelly
19 rue Lucien Sampaix
75010 Paris

Open 9:00 am weekdays, 10:00 weekends, closed Tuesday and Wednesdays

 

 

Trying My Hand at Making Bao Burgers

After a long while, I finally had the opportunity to try making my own Chinese-style bao burgers. The verdict? Pretty tasty and easier than I expected!

One of my favorite restaurants in the word is Little Bao in Hong Kong. (Read my review of it.) They are one in a crowd of restaurants doing more modern twists on the Chinese (specifically, Taiwanese) gua bao, steamed flour buns folded in half around pork belly, braised chicken, or other fillings.

P1280602A spicy fried chicken with garlic black bean mayo and scallion coleslaw bao from Little Bao in Hong Kong.

The conceit at Little Bao is that instead of a folded bun, they make their bao more like hamburger buns. This makes it possible to include more tasty fillings, offering a better balance of bread to filling. It was that hamburger-like quality that I wanted to achieve.

Day One

I worked with my friend Chow (aka the Bangkok Glutton), my frequent co-conspirator in the kitchen. The basic recipe for the bao is simple: flour, water, yeast, a bit of baking powder and a bit of salt. Some versions have some milk added for softness – I didn’t try that this time. You let the dough rise a few times, punching it down between rises but trying to avoid over-working it, because bao are meant to be soft, not chewy.

IMG_4867The first day, we made bao the traditional way, rolling them out into an oblong shape and them folding them in half over a piece of wax paper. This allows them to be opened and stuffed more easily. They are then steamed for about 8-10 minutes and can either be served warm or kept covered and reheated if necessary.

As for the red decoration, I found that trick in one online recipe. You use red food coloring and the tip of a chopstick to decorate the buns just before steaming. Looks pretty professional! Our kitchen assistants became more creative and so we ended up with all sorts of designs on our bao.

IMG_4872For the first day’s bao, we used some braised pork belly, homemade radish pickles, some braised cabbage, and some Italian parsley. It turned out okay, but the bao were a bit flat, brittle at the fold, and the fillings were underwhelming in flavor. All in all, though, a good first attempt.

Day Two

The second day we let the dough rise more and also shaped it into balls, making it more like a hamburger bun. This worked better although I think we over-worked the dough a bit, as it was tough.

IMG_4928The pictures don’t do justice, but the fillings were a great deal better this time around. We tried a different recipe for the pork belly, which had much more flavor than the original recipe.

IMG_4933We also did a duck breast, which I paired with the seasonings I had used the day before for the pork belly. This, too, was very nice.

IMG_4939The star of the show was a more traditional Taiwanese version with chicken thigh meat braised in Chinese rice wine and soy sauce served with chopped peanuts. This was so tasty, I could have eaten a half-dozen and I will have to try it again soon.

IMG_4937As an added bonus, since I was also teaching two friends’ children to cook, we made a homemade chicken noodle soup with both the broth and the noodles from scratch. I think the noodles came out a bit too “spaetzle-like” but they were tasty and the broth was the first time I’ve made a chicken broth that really wowed me.

Stay tuned for more from the kitchen.

 

DIY Taco Night

Recently, a friend invited me to cook at his place for about 15 guests. The menu: do-it-yourself tacos with fish, pork, and beef fillings. I took the opportunity to shoot a video, something I haven’t done in a while.

 

Waffles and Fried Chicken

This past Saturday my friend Chow and I decided to tackle a combination I have heard a lot about but eaten only twice: fried chicken and waffles.

A classic of Southern US regional cuisine, the two go together better than I imagined. The waffles were light and tangy thanks to buttermilk and egg whites, which are folded in just before cooking.

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To give the chicken an extra layer of flavor, Chow whipped up a sauce of hot green chilies, cilantro, lime, vinegar, and honey. The kick cut through the richness of the meal.

We also prepared a slaw of cabbage, beets, daikon, and carrots plus a salad of cucumbers, sour cream, and dill. All in all, a tasty Saturday night feast.