In a testament to how ravenously the eaters of Portland were awaiting long-delayed Bao Bao Dumpling House, photographer Kyle J. Norris found a packed house at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday in late October. Young chef and co-owner Cara Stadler's latest is a hit, and if the staying power of her Brunswick restaurant Tao Yuan is any indication, Bao Bao will continue to draw crowds beyond weeks one and two.
Bloggers have enjoyed their initial lunch and dinner visits to the striking space. As previously noted, Eating Portland Alive foresaw "very good things coming from this place." (Follow that link to see a food menu, as well.) Kate McCarty of The Blueberry Files found the pork and cabbage dumplings "delightfully savory and full of ginger." John Golden assured readers that "Stadler's kitchen is in fine form."
Front of house manager Sami Smart was able to take a moment from what she called the "whirlwind" of the restaurant to reflect via email on the first week of operation, including customer confusion about steamed buns versus dumplings:
You made it through the soft opening and week one. How is everything going? Did you learn any major lessons that you're taking to heart moving forward?
It's been so busy ALL THE TIME, which is great! The soft opening was good, and we did learn a lot about needing to adjust the procedures of how we carry out a few service things.
Is there a menu item that's a clear customer favorite? Those black vinegar boiled peanuts were a highlight.
The biggest things that are selling on the menu are probably the lamb and peanut dumplings. We love the beef noodle soup - perfect for a chilly day! The pigs ears have been an interesting sell with customers. I think a lot of people expect them to be crispy but it's actually gelatinous and spicy, very traditional. Glad you enjoyed the peanuts - they're lovely with beer! People are really taking to the scorpion bowl which is exciting - I use good liquors in it as well as fresh squeezed juices and herbs.
Have there been any surprises?
One thing that we feel has surprised us is that a lot of people are expecting us to have steamed buns on our menu because of the name BaoBao. "Baozi" is a Chinese word a lot of people use for steamed buns, "BaoBao" is a different translation meaning "wrapped jewel or treasure," just like the dumplings.
We just don't have the capacity space- or staff-wise in our kitchen to produce steamed buns, but there are plenty of them at Tao yuan :] We do, however, have a deep fried pork bun for late night (11 p.m. - 1 a.m. along with a limited version of our menu). The fried bun is covered in aioli, togarashi, and scallion for just $2.08 - amazing late night snack! We run a lunch special which is a salad and 10 dumplings (of the chef's choice) for $12.08.
Any plans for take-out?
Take out will be an option once we get a good grasp on serving the customers in house.
Bao Bao Dumpling House, 133 Spring Street, Portland, (207) 772-8400, Facebook. Open Tuesday - Sunday 11:30 a.m. - 1 a.m., lunch special 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. Reservations taken only for parties of 8 or more.