In trying to find a last minute place to have a quiet Christmas Eve dinner in or around our West Hollywood neighborhood, I was shocked to see Bao Dim Sum House pop up on OpenTable. Dim sum in West Hollywood? Despite the previous bad experience with introducing Mark to dim sum, I had to investigate, and Mark, being the trooper he is, agreed to come along. So we headed over to the newly opened establishment on the corner of Beverly and Sweetzer to try it out.
Upon walking into the modernly appointed dining area, with its friendly, attractive, spiffily dressed, English-speaking service staff, it was clear that this would not be a very traditional dim sum meal. In my mind, the phrase "dim sum" brings to mind divey, dumpy establishments, loud and lousy with carts pushed about the room by hostile, slightly rumpled looking older Chinese ladies. For me, at least, the raucousness of these establishments is part of the charm. Then again, a traditional dim sum restaurant probably wouldn't offer a very tasty cocktail menu, so...trade-offs.
Another indicator that this is not yo mama's dim sum? A written, organized menu. I'm used to just pointing at the dishes meandering by me.
The very first thing we ordered off the almost unsettlingly well-ordered menu was the crystal shrimp dumplings, or har gow (below). Har gow is a pretty good indicator of quality in dim sum places - the translucent rice flour wrapper and specific flavor of the filling can be difficult to execute. Bao does okay with this standard dish - the dough was quite a bit thicker than I would have liked (should be paper thin!), and the filling threw me off a little, as it used baby shrimp as opposed to diced regular-sized shrimp. But the dumplings were definitely in the right neighborhood, flavor-wise.
Next, we opted for a little greenery with the sauteed pea shoots in garlic (below). The light white sauce bordered on (but didn't quite cross over into) bland, and I wanted more garlic flavor, but the greens were nicely cooked (tender-crisp).
Mark's favorite dish of the night was the steamed BBQ pork buns (below). Having consumed pork buns from an early age (cha shu bao is how I know them - growing up, we'd pick some up in the Filipino bakery in San Francisco when visiting my relatives), I have to say, these are pretty legit. Not overly doughy, these buns had a meat filling that was just the right combination of sweet and savory.
Not content to learn from our past, we got an order of spare ribs with black bean sauce (below). This is exactly the type of dim sum dish that Mark disliked so much in our previous experience, with fatty, unctuous, chewy meat...and it's exactly the type of dim sum dish I love. So, I guess this round was a wash with us. To Bao's credit (at least on Mark's side), the spare ribs were definitely less greasy here than you would see at a more traditional place.
Next came a dish that I got to enjoy all by myself, the beef tripe with XO sauce (below). When ordering this dish and the spare ribs above, the waiter sized me up and commented, "You can always tell when someone knows dim sum - these are the dishes they order." Not gonna lie, that made me feel a little special. So did this dish. The tender tripe came in a delicate sauce and was freshened up by no small amount of green herbs.
For our final dish, we deviated from the "steamed" portion of the menu with the pan grilled chicken potstickers (below). These were very good, with clean flavors and a nice crispy crust - perfect for Mark, who had, on balance, not had too much to eat.
Is this the place to go when you want really authentic dim sum? No, of course not. If you're asking that question, I suspect you already know the answer. This place is in West Hollywood, and it's pretty pricey for dim sum. BUT, it's a pretty decent Anglicized approximation, so if you have someone in your life who can't get down with real dim sum (ahem!), this might just be the ticket.