Bar Bao (closed)

by Susan on January 13, 2009


We strolled off Columbus Avenue and into Vietnam. Inside Bar Bao (a remake of UWS oldie, Rain), weathered floorboards look like they’ve traveled from the colonial era. The curvy bar seductively beckons. Certain that someone, or something, worth seeing is in the shadows, you squint at the plush booths. The dimly lit interior is fit to be a movie-set.

Once you’re seated, the appealing menu will help you overcome the urge to rubberneck. Vietnamese cuisine, especially its spices and flavors, is enticing and delicious (and yes, I’ve spent time in Vietnam). At Bar Bao, the menu lures you in and charms you with these ideals. Then the food arrives, snapping you back to reality – you’re at mediocre NYC restaurant with poor service.

Baby Lamb Lollipops, the first of many dishes described incorrectly by our server (and the menu), were merely individual lamp chops. Expecting something more creative, we were disenchanted by their mundane preparation.

While the Daikon Duck Hash cleverly uses soy-drenched cubes of daikon instead of potatoes, the duck bacon (whose presence is assured by the menu) is imperceptible. By charging $12 for a small and starch-centric dish, Bao might be more villainous than clever.

Sizzling Cuttlefish, dense but not chewy, was charred and spiced. It was the night’s winner.

While credit is due for the ingenuity of Black Cod glazed with bean curd, the dish fell flat on the taste buds.

Chayote, which our server ineptly described as “cooked carrots,” was more like cucumber. Matchsticks of the over-brined green vegetable, which Wikipedia later confirmed is part of the gourd family (along with cucumber), huddled around Smoked Tofu. It was more odd than good.

The Sticky Rice, intentioned to be a sweet-meets-salt concoction, was more salt-meets-saltier. I couldn’t muster a second bite. Pieces of Chinese sausage (another ingredient assured by the menu), were few and far between.

Our server received his third strike for his incompetent description of the dessert. The dessert itself, a bizarre melange of chocolate and candy, went down swinging.

Admittedly, each dish at Bar Bao had a distinct flavor, but their individual personalities failed to impress. Unfortunately for Bar Bao, looks aren’t everything.

Bar Bao
100 West 82nd Street
New York, NY 10024

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Laurie January 14, 2009 at 9:02 am

Give BarBao another chance. My experience there Monday night was very different. Our server was very helpful and knew the menu well. We were under time pressure and the staff was most conscientious about getting us out in time for our lecture.We shared 5 small plates – the short ribs on a lemongrass stalk were quite good, the duck hash tasty enough with the egg mixed in and the cuttlefish nicely contrasting with bright flavors. The spring rolls were blah. The best dish of the evening was the red snapper – beautiful presentation and chunks of silky white fish with the slightest of sweet contrasts in the pineapple. Don’t be too quick to forget about BarBao – or just enjoy a drink or two in the very comfy bar.

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