Michael Huynh has never met a pun with the word “bao” he didn’t love (think Baoguette, and the shuttered Baotique and Baorrito). So, it was only a matter of time until he opened BaoBQ (229 First Avenue, 212-475-7011), a new spot in the East Village serving, naturally, barbecued meats and other Vietnamese and Thai staples.
We popped in for a quick lunch because we saw on the menu that it was offering mi quang, a Vietnamese noodle dish with bright yellow noodles, plus shrimp, bountiful herbs, and puffy rice crackers, all in a light broth. It’s delicious, and we’ve yet to find in New York City. But, alas, they weren’t selling the dish yesterday. Major bummer.
Instead we opted for the ga nuong, or charcoal-grilled Vietnamese chicken. You can order just the bird for $7 for a half-chicken and $12 for a whole, or grab a combo special that includes two sides for $8.50 with a quarter-chicken or $9.75 for a half, and $9 should you want pork. We opted for charred long beans and papaya salad as our sides.
The chicken itself (a quarter of dark meat) was actually quite moist, falling right off the bone, and the skin possessed a nice char. It wasn’t quite as spicy as one would think, given that it was advertised as spicy, but it was flavorful and a relatively filling portion. The sides, however, were fairly unmemorable, particularly the beans, which were overcooked and watery.
The menu also offers the other staples you’d find at the various Bao restaurants: a banh mi (with grilled chicken), bun noodle dishes, and assorted salads. We tried the bun cha ca, featuring catfish satay over rice noodles ($9). While the fish was well-cooked, the dish as a whole was rather bland, even with a dousing of sauce. It also was almost entirely fish noodles, and peanuts with very little salad and herbs. We’re a fan of the dish when it’s heavily coated in turmeric and dill, so this was kind of a letdown.
Inside the restaurant, you’ll find green-painted walls with various slogans in Vietnamese and about five tables. It’s more sparsely decorated than the nearby Baoguette Café, and, in fact, a little dreary. Of course, one lunch isn’t quite enough to make a full-on verdict, but if we were to go back (unlikely), it would probably be to get only the rotisserie chicken (either the Vietnamese one we ordered or the Thai-style version) and enjoy it in the comfort of our own home.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 22, 2011