I went to Bao 111 last night, on the strength of Bruni's fawning review of a few months ago, and the general ubiquity of the place on critic's lists and the like. Maybe I should of known better when I sat down to the "utz utz utz" beat, and when I looked around and saw only sullen first-date types picking at spring rolls, but I was not a happy 'hounder. Perhaps the more viscious among you will flog this review because I've only been there once, but hey, life's too short to give middling places a second chance.
My main complaint is that the restaurant trots out Vietnamese standards, with slightly nicer ingredients at significantly higher prices than you would find in Chinatown. Case in point: the spare ribs, served off the bone and wrapped around a stalk of lemon grass. Perfectly decent, but this dish suffers in comparison to the shrimp wrapped around sugar cane that you find sub-Houston. And it is annoying to find spare ribs--the range of texture, changing from roasted outside to tender at the bone--ruined by a gimmicky presentation. A similar problem with the fried spring rolls, which have some crab in them that is unidentifiable.
The best appetizer that I had was the lacquered scallop, which was good, but not exceptional.
For mains, I had the iron pot chicken, the basa curry, the pork satay, and the stir fried beef. The latter was stringy and bland; the first was hearty but undistinguished. The basa curry was probably the best of the lot, and the pork was tasty but no tastier than what you can get sub-Houston. By this point in the meal, it sunk in that I really hadn't had a very good range of flavours, despite having good portions of seven dishes. And only three of them would I order again. So perhaps this is a place for two people to eat rather than three or more.
The desserts on the other hand were good. Best was the bread pudding. But not enough of a draw to bring me back. Instead I'll save my money and head downtown, or if I'm looking for some legitimately new takes on Asian food, I'll head to Spice Market.