From the streets of Taipei to downtown Manhattan comes the gua bao. This steamed, stuffed wheat bun is the specialty at Baohaus, a little shop that opened around Christmas on the Lower East Side. Lau, wary of the glut of faddish Asian sandwich joints, was pleasantly surprised.
The Chairman Bao, filled with slow-braised Niman Ranch pork belly, pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts, and cilantro, boasted tender, flavorful, uncommonly light-tasting meat in a fluffy, slightly sweet bun, he reports. Other choices are skirt steak and pan-fried tofu. Baohaus also serves boiled peanuts, another typical Taiwanese street snack. Its version, flavored with vinegar and maybe star anise, is tasty. "I was pretty skeptical," Lau says, "but I was very pleased by this place and they're doing a really good job bringing real Taiwanese food to Manhattan."
wew seconds Lau's recommendation, describing rich, delicious pork; zippy seasonings and garnishes; and "jumping fresh" bread. But he says it's a pretty pricy bite at $7.95 for two smallish buns. "The very bad news is that they are just so good as to put a smile on your face," he concludes.
At Xian Famous Foods' two-month-old Chinatown branch, the news has been mostly good, as mainstream media attention has brought a flood of business. HLing thinks the strain may be showing; the popular lamb and pork burgers were disappointing on her recent visit, she writes. But she adds that another menu item, Chang-an spicy tofu, is quite good; it's a savory dish of soft tofu with a layer of chile oil, pickled turnip, and a few whole soybeans.
wew has sniffed out some other highlights here, including spicy-sour Mount Qi pork noodles and the richer zha jiang noodles in savory-sweet beef sauce. Despite the suddenly long lines, he says, "my romance with the food remains intact."
Baohaus [Lower East Side]
137 Rivington Street (near Norfolk Street), Manhattan
Xian Famous Foods [Chinatown]
88 E. Broadway (entrance on Forsyth Street), Manhattan
No phone available