238 E 14th St, New York, NY 10003
I really wanted to like this, I really did. The combination of Bao Haus being a Taiwanese second gen thing through Eddie Huang, the owner, and his family, made it kind of a motherland connection.
This wasn’t my first time at Bao Haus. I’ve probably been here a handful of times with different people, ordering different items off the menu. Being the 14 street location, I walk past it almost every day. And every day I tell myself, “I might try it again.” because I really want to rave about it like I rave about Totto or Milkbar or Tacombi. I believe in second chances, but I’ve given Bao Haus plenty.
I didn’t grow up eating “guabaos” styled a la Bao Haus, though my Mother&Co. would sometimes make “hua juan” (with green onions sporadically smashed into the dough) that had the same consistency as the white doughy exterior of these baos. This type of dough is more of a northern China cuisine, something my grandparents loved for breakfast with assorted pickled side dishes and congee. (Oh, the different types of congee my grandma used to make! Mung bean, millet, plain — freezing cold with ice cubes, steaming hot or tempered, with sugar, with fish floss, with salted eggs.)
The first time I tried Bao Haus was with my cousin and his fiance. I just had arrived in the city and they were visiting. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t expect Momofuku Noodle Bar or Ippudo Ramen to be such a wait so we just chose to eat somewhere randomly. We ended up at the Japanese place known for its curry at 10th and 1st. But it wasn’t what we were craving and we just needed to stuff our faces even more.
Walking around, we ended up in Bao Haus, each with a bao, though none of were too impressed. I had gotten their Ai-Yu Jelly Lemonade because I was born to drink Ai-Yu jelly. (Ai-Yu is a light yellow and transparent in colour, texture similar to grass jelly and just like a jello. It’s made out of a plant I believe, where you have to sift the seeds in a cheese cloth and let the gelatinous substance run out. I’ve seen them make in the traditional markets, side by side with grass jelly. Lemon juice and slices, water and some ice will complete this drink.)
We also ordered the Sweet Bao Fries with sesame paste. Decent, but again, it was something our grandparents would order for us and we’ve had better in Taiwan. (Our fav kind is the deep fried man tous, braided on the inside — the outside would be golden brown and crispy, and the inside white and fluffy. The dipping sauce would be thick condensed milk.)
I was over the moon with my Ai-Yu because this is NYC and even Toronto didn’t always have it. I mentioned it to the BFF and we stashed it in our to drink list.
We ended up there one night, where we got the lemonade jelly and the “fries”. It wasn’t a busy night and one of the brothers was actually our cashier. Since the lemonade is pre-made, we couldn’t ask for less sugar.
Determined to get it to the way I wanted it to taste, I asked if he could make it less sweet. He apologized and said he didn’t know how to make it less sweet. Fair enough. I went back to the booth disappointed, but with a whatever attitude about it. A few seconds later, the cashier came to us and offered us free Apple Sidra and boxed tea instead. We refused the nice gesture, but he insisted we keep it. (I think he might’ve also refunded us our money for the drink too.)
“That’s how you do business — the Asian way,” the BFF whispered.
More recently, around November 2012, we decided to give the drink another chance. We even requested more ice and less drink so it would mellow out the sugar. Nope, just as sweet or even sweeter! (I feel like I need to be fair with my war on sugar and say perhaps we just don’t like sweet things…?)
To be relevant, the photo above is of my most recent visit to Bao Haus. I ordered the Birdhaus Bao to stay. Nothing tastes as good on a take out, so I was being extra generous with my last straw.
I waited for an insane amount of time for such a small bao. I would say 10-15 minutes. I sat at the bench and examined the graffiti on the walls, on the tables etc. The titles on the wall were even now black and shiny. Before, they were white tiles with cute paintings of their menu.
Anyway, bao came and almost soaked my hand in grease. It was placed in a white paper bag, like the ones they use for beef patties but in half, just perfect for the size of the bao. Maybe I hadn’t been there in a while, but when I used to order, they came in paper boats, which I prefer.
The bao is decorated with a speckle of cilantro, not enough for my taste. Same with the crushed peanuts — definitely needed more.
After a few bites, I noticed a slight sweetness. I couldn’t tell what it was and when I went in for another bite, it was mostly gone. (Their menu says Taiwanese red sugar.)
The chicken had a very strange breading and wasn’t juicy like the Birdhaus Bao I had almost two years ago. The breading was the type that separated from the chicken once you bit into it and had almost a sticky film.
At the very end of the bao is a dollop of mayo, which would’ve actually been nice if it were spicy.
This probably has been the most disappointing “hype” place I’ve been to in NYC. Try it if you’ve never had these types of baos, but it’s not a place I would recommend friends to go to.