Bao Bao Dumpling House

Now, in my occasional series of posts where I eat food and write about it, Bao Bao Dumpling House (133 Spring Street, Portland, ME). As seems to be the pattern, I met up with my friend Jim after a long day of driving to eat!

I found the location easily (the sign is well lit and large), near the sad remains of Miyake Diner, and there was a reasonable queue already at the door. The maître d’, Chris, took my name and number and informed me that at worst there would be a 30 minute wait to be seated. While waiting, I met up with Jim and I prepped him about the history of Bao Bao. The head chef and co-owner, Cara Stadler, is a staple of the Brunswick food scene. Her restaurant Tao-Yuan is well respected and has significant cache in the southern midcoast. The opening of Bao Bao was highly anticipated, especially with some unexpected delays this year.

The call for seating came quicker than promised and we scrambled to get to the door. Inside, the seating (in black) ranges from comfortable wall benches, a large party corner with a lazy Susan, to small pie slice tables suitable for two. The low bar is inviting with beautifully lit rice-paper backgrounds behind the bottles. On the wall above the benches a large, long golden dragon sculpture speaks to the joy and passion of the restauranteur.

Once seated, we were greeted promptly by our server Zoe and brought a carafe of water. The menu immediately makes obvious the reason for coming to Bao Bao — dumplings, lots of them. With options for pan fried or boiled, the dumplings were priced attractively (starting at $6.08 for six) and the variety would satisfy vegetarians and hearty eaters. We ultimately selected the following:

  • Pan Fried Chicken Cashew
  • Pan Fried Beef Curry
  • Pan Fried Lamb Peanut
  • Pan Fried Tofu with Cilantro
  • Boiled Pork & Cabbage
  • Shao Mai

Our selected beverages (Founders All Day IPA and Fatty Bampkins cider) were served quickly and the dumplings followed in rapid succession. The next time I go, I think I’ll time the ordering and delivery a bit more — at a small table it was easy to become overwhelmed with plates.

Available at the table were soy sauce and good chili oil, both good complements to some of the less potent tasting dumplings (i.e. Chicken Cashew). The Lamb Peanut had a good taste, but the texture of the peanut was somewhat challenging and it seemed that the lamb was a little overcooked (this dumpling was the only one where the contents easily slid from the wrapper). The Tofu/Cilantro and Pork/Cabbage were quite easy to eat and needed no adulteration. Importantly, the dough used for the wrapper is relatively neutral and didn’t damage the taste of the dumplings. The Shao Mai were nicely steamed and satisfied as they should. We quickly came to the conclusion that the Beef Curry dumplings suited us the best, followed closely by the Tofu/Cilantro.

I’d suggest that 36 dumplings for two people is a little too much — there wasn’t much space to try an appetizer or dessert. It’s hard to resist the dumplings, though, as the taste and texture are great! I highly recommend visiting Bao Bao and trying the wide variety of dumplings (natch) and the very interesting appetizers.

Cost: $28/person, not including tip.