Calling Xiao Bao Biscuit a “filling station” may be all too appropriate
A friend of mine asked me where we went for dinner the night we hit Xiao Bao Biscuit. First he asked me to repeat the name of the restaurant because, well, let’s face it, it does have an unusual name.
Then he asked me to repeat where the restaurant was, because, well, let’s face it, up until a couple of years ago, there was nothing there on the corner of Spring and Rutledge. In fact, XBB’s digs used to be a gas station (the pump island is still in the parking lot).
6pm Thursday night: we weren’t the first ones in, not by a longshot. We made our way to the corner seat facing the bar. We were greeted immediately and presented with menus by the bartender, and our server appeared with water and proceeded to ask for and suggest selections for a drink order. After having been in the restaurant business for a few years, I sensed a team-waiting situation, and a very efficient one (ours was named the Wu Tang). My wife ordered the Taipei Storm, an interesting hybrid of a Dark & Stormy and a Painkiller, and I was boring, having ordered a Westbrook IPA in a can. Both selections will tell you that XBB was really on it in terms of having great bartending chops as well as having a solid beer selection.
First up was the iconic favorite that was suggested by basically everyone that had a voice about this restaurant (virtual or otherwise). Okonomiyaki is a Japanese cabbage pancake caramelized to the texture of something familiar that’s scattered, smothered, and covered. Dressed with sweet mayonnaise and siracha, I couldn’t believe what I was eating. A cabbage pancake? Well, the general public was right on with that one. Served alongside were Jiao Zi, homemade lamb and pork dumplings with radish shavings and pea shoots with a black vinegar and soy dipping sauce. That second selection had some serious heat that crept up on us...remember, drinking water only makes it worse.
Vietnamese entrées: mine was Cao Lau, a wheat noodle dish with pork, greens herbs, and a lively chili broth that was right up my alley. Don’t think that this was a little bowl the size of a teacup, because halfway through it, I realized I was running out of room. Hearty noodles with what appeared to be six ounces or so of fork-tender meat was holding my attention long enough to see what was on the other side of the table: Cha Ca Ha Noi. The dish on the menu with more vowels than a Mafia phone book consisted of seared flounder, broad rice noodles, garlic and lemongrass broth. Had this not been an Asian restaurant, my wife would have kept all of it for herself, but chopsticks and a dull soup spoon weren’t enough of a deterrent to keep me out of this bowl of awesome. Flounder is a tough fish to cook properly because of its delicate nature, and this was pulled off to perfection. The one casualty of the dish turned out to be some mustard greens that were surreptitiously deposited into a nearby napkin (it wasn’t me).
One disappointment: the “donut” setup. Fried bread came with a little cup of dipping icing. The icing was nice, but it seemed that the dough picked up other flavors that didn’t really belong there.
This place was full by 6:30 on a Thursday. With no reservations and a little parking lot, a little planning or a fair amount of enthusiasm for time at the bar is recommended. The bar is really fun, though, and there’s a good chance you will see Joshua Walker running the line in the kitchen and Duolan Li greeting guests and assisting in any way she can. The XBB hierarchy started out by doing “pop-up” dinners last year, but with a fantastic home that has been constructed for them, expect crowds of would-be diners to continue to populate the corner of Spring and Rutledge this summer.