In the Gastown section of Vancouver is Bao Down. The unassuming storefront is easy to miss, but is located just steps from the Gassy Jack statue. The style of food can be best described as Asian take-out tacos. Instead of the tortillas, the transport vehicle is the bao – a type of steamed bread. At its best, its sweet, sticky, spongy, and dense. Really perfect for fatty meats such as duck or pork belly. Long story short, bao’s been around for a long time, people smarter than me have found creative ways for using bao, and here we are today. So, let’s assess the damage.
The YVR ($6) – Bao with sesame seared albacore tuna, wasabi mayo, baby pea shoots, avocado, sweet soy and double smoked bacon
This was pretty good. The caveat being that I am a sucker for tuna, so things have to get pretty messed up for me to hate this. The flavors that shone through were the bacon, avocado, and the tuna. In fact, the whole thing kind of tasted like a BLT. On the other hand, the dressings were not very noticeable, while the baby pea shoots added some unobjectionable color and some texture. As a general note, the bao itself was sweet and dense, though I would have prefer it to be a little warmer.
Japoyaki Poutine (Large $8) – Fries with curry sauce, cheese, jalapeños, seaweed, and sprouts
This is an example of fusion done right. Everything coalesced nicely here. The crunchy fries were worn down with the cheese and curry sauce, the jalapeños added heat, the seaweed added umami. My cholesterol level would be unsightly if this was more convenient to obtain.
VeVo ($5) – Shitake mushrooms, garlic pea shoots, sprouts, organic red kale, avocado, organic carrot & beet strings, ginger peanut sauce and toasted sesame seeds
This came courtesy of my wife, who does not eat meat. I appreciate places that accommodate people’s diets, but this did not do much for me. The main problem being that baos are just not the ideal vehicle for vegetables. As you bite through the dense bao, what you want is something greasy or crunchy to provide a contrast. This does not happen here. It’s competent, but not something I would go out of my way for.
Jaws ($5) – Coconut crusted catfish, kimchi tartar, microgreens & cabbage in a Thai vinaigrette.
This was pretty good as well. The catfish was crunchy and slightly flaky, though I couldn’t really discern the coconut from the crust. The tartar was tangy (but couldn’t discern the kimchi element, which might have drowned out by the vinaigrette). As you can see from the picture, the veggies were colorful and fresh.
Finally, it’s hard to tell from the pictures, but the baos are not very large in since, about a size of a fist in most instances. It will take about 2-3 bags to feed an average adult. The pricing is fair, but your bill may easily go north of $20 per person if you are really hungry.