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Monday, January 23, 2017

BaoBao Dumpling House- Portland, Maine

We arrived in Portland, Maine just in time for lunch.  I knew Portland was famous for it's food scene and the  biggest issue would be how to fit as much food as possible in 48 hours (first world problems).  With high expectations and building excitement, it is quite easy to look at the long list of 4 to 5 star rated restaurants and be a little overwhelmed by the options.  

The thing about Portland is there is more than a little bit of everything.  In the mood for Asian?  Pick from one of these five restaurants with rave reviews.  Seafood?  I don't even know where to begin with the choices.  I decided to consult "The Bible" (Fodor's New England travel guide if you are new to the blog) with this tough decision.  The book had yet to disappoint me so far, with an awesome stop at Congdon's donuts and a nice little walk at Rachel Carsons preserve to start the day.  

While perusing through the food section, two restaurants really jumped out at me: BaoBao for their dumplings, and Duck Fat for their fries.  The idea was set and I was not leaving Portland without dumplings or french fries.   And so, our first real stop (if you don't count the donuts) became BaoBao. 

General Info

BaoBao Dumpling House
Rating:  4.5 Stars 
Address: 133 Spring Street, Portland, ME 
Contact: 207.772.8400
Open:  Wednesday through Sunday, Closed Monday and Tuesday

Reservations:  Parties of 8 or more

Vegetarian Friendly:  Yes

Gluten Free Friendly:  Dumplings no, but some options 

Parking:  On the street (metered)

Special Events
1/2 Price Dumplings: 2:00-4:00 (Wed-Fri)
Happy Hour: 4:00 - 6:00 (Wed-Fri)
Monthly Tap Takeover (currently featuring Oxbow Brewing)
Pop Up Events 

Why The Name?
"BaoBao 包宝 in Chinese translates to “wrapped treasure”, or in our case, dumplings (jiaozi 饺子), served in a historic townhouse in Portland’s West End.  We offer Asian inspired comfort food, designed to satisfy both the midnight foodie, or discerning dinner diner.  Our core menu is supplemented with ever-changing daily specials and a wide variety of teas, beers, wines and specialty cocktails".

What's the story?
"BaoBao is the second restaurant from award-winning Executive Chef Cara Stadler and her mother, Cecile.  It was inspired by a childhood of sitting around the kitchen table bao’ing dumplings; as well as the many jiaozi guans we frequented in China.  The idea was to provide a place where you can come in for a snack or full meal, any time of day, and always have something delicious to eat.  BaoBao has something for everyone, from children to gourmands.  Open five days a week from 11:30 am until late, BaoBao’s “wrapped treasures” are guaranteed to delight!"

First Impressions
Fun and funky place with great food at a reasonable price.  
When we walked into BaoBao the place was packed, even at 2:30 on a cold January day outside of the normal lunch rush.  The decor was warm and inviting, and we picked a window seat tucked in the corner with the succulents.  The bar area was very cool, kind of sunken in the back of the restaurant.  We sat down, looked at the menu and the first thing we noticed were the funky prices (who decided to price something at $5.48?).  Reading the menu we soon realized that the prices looked a little odd because they actually included tip.  The restaurant was trying to go the European direction, where tip is included in the cost of the entrees, and there is no need to tip on the bill.  What this means is that all the servers are set at a higher hourly rate, and you diner, do not have to sit there on your iPhone calculating tip percentages (guilty...).  You may wonder if this affects service and the answer is NO.  The service was great, the restaurant was packed, and I loved this idea of servers getting an hourly rate instead of dealing with the uncertainty of bad tippers or slow days.  End story, food looked amazing, tip is included and service was great.  
Onto the food! 

The Food
 Before walking into BaoBao I had read some reviews and was told we had to try the Peanuts or the Slaw.  We had a LOT of eating scheduled for this trip and did not want to fill up to fast (also the reason we skipped booze, slow and steady).  The menu was eclectic with a variety of hot and cold options, vegetarian and meaty, and you could easily build a quick snack or a filling dinner from the menu. We set our game plan and decided to split a cold app and two orders of dumplings (six each) to see what BaoBao was all about.

We started with a pot of freshly steeped-at-the-table tea and the Asian slaw.  Light, refreshing, unique and absolutely delicious.  Cabbage, pea pods, carrots shallots and peanuts in a light vinaigrette provided the perfect salty, crunchy appetizer.  Who would have known cabbage and peanuts tasted so good together?  

All the dumplings came six to an order, and could be fried or steamed. In the fashion of fairness, we decided to try then both. We started with the Lamb, Black bean chili and peanut dumplings fried, because who would have thought to put these things in a dumpling together? I am glad someone did because the combination was delicious. Deep and savory stepping away from typical dumpling ingredients for a rich little pocket, dipped in a tomato sauce instead of a soy. Did I mention they were fried in some cheese?


6 Dumplings per Order

Pork and Cabbage – 7.98

Shrimp & Bacon – 10.98

Chicken Cashew – 7.98

Kung Pao Chicken & Peanut – 7.98

Beef & Yellow Curry – 9.98
Lamb, Black Bean Chili & Peanut – 9.98
Tofu, Shiitake, Carrot & Cilantro – 8.98
Shao Mai – 8.98
Thread Cut Hake & Burdock – 9.98
Pork Wontons – 8.98

Check out more of a sample menu HERE

We also tried the pork dumplings (Shao Mai) steamed to try something a little more traditional.  They came in this really fun two tier steamer box.  They were light and delicious with the perfect texture of the wonton wrapper and just about everything you want and expect in an asian dumpling.  We dipped these in the sauces provided on the table, a soy sauce, a rice vinegar and an oil.  The rice vinegar was a black bean vinegar made in house, along with the house made chili oil that way you can make it to your liking; salty, tangy, or spicy.

If I am being honest, I could have ordered a few more sets of dumplings, you know, for research purposes. But I remembered my book in the car, the french fries that I had yet to meet, and we decided we would have to come back for the rest of those dumplings.

If you aren't in the mood for dumplings, they offer a few hot dishes on the menu from greens to soup and oysters. If the prices seem a little high at first glance, remember, tip is included and the food is divine. In true Portland fashion, the restaurant is small and busy. This may be a tough spot to get into with a large group but they do take reservations for 8 or more. Wether you are looking for a good happy hour, a quick snack, or a full meal, BaoBao will not disappoint. Authentic dumplings can be hard to come by in southeastern Connecticut, so we were glad to have them here. I will be back to try just about everything else on the menu next time I find myself in this delightful little city.  

After a donut on the way and a sampling of slaws and dumplings at BaoBao, the Eatcation was off to a great start and it was time to start undoing the button on my jeans. We left Baobao full and happy, and of course, discussing our next meal already. 

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