Review: The Bao

first impression: This new Clayton spot is dedicated to its namesake, the bao (pronounced bow, like the front of a ship), a Chinese steamed bun. I love the concept, and the decor is really cool, with a sleek bar vibe and gilded mirrors—not at all what you’d expect from a place serving basically Asian street food.

wash it down
The lounge atmosphere lends itself to sipping with your sandwiches, and there are plenty of inventive cocktails to choose from (plus a handful of beers and wines by the glass). The Love Having Written ($7) blended sweet and fermented flavors in a gin concoction with dandelion liqueur and fermented apricot soda.

must try
» thai soup: $4; Try both of them—they are delicious. The chicken and rice version is salty and savory with plenty of cilantro and slivered chicken. The tofu soup has a sweet, coconut milk broth and pungent lime undertones, with mushrooms and tofu to give it substance. At this price for a good-sized bowl, they are totally amazing.
» taiwanese dumplings: $8;  They arrive in a circle underneath a thin, crisp pancake. The delicate dough pockets are filled with ground chicken and veggies and release an array of flavors when dipped into their soy and vinegar sauce.
» laab wings: $8; Unlike any chicken wings I’ve tasted. Meaty and spicy from flavors like lemongrass, thai chili and kaffir lime leaves, they had a light crust of rice powder that made the texture pleasingly crisp. In flavor, they were exotic, with a bite.
» char siu bao: $10; Combines yummy sweet flavors with red-barbecue pork. Chef Nisa York has added American sandwich flavors to all of her creations, like mayo and fried onions on this one. It also has the traditional raw ingredients—cucumber, scallion and cilantro—that cut the richness of the bun and meat.
» kankuni bao: $10; Piled with roasted pork belly, cilantro and pickled greens, the flavor is amazingly rich (there are chunks of fat in there). The pickled veggies help lighten it and add a wonderful vinegar note, as does a sweet, peanut sauce.
» soft shell crab bao: $14; Too tempting to pass up! The panko-breaded delicacy sits on a soft bao spread with masago (Japanese mayo mixed with lime and Sriracha). And even though the breading is a little thick (and super crunchy) for the delicate legs, soft-shell crab is always a treat.
» ice cream bao: $7; I chose the green tea flavor; it’s pan-fried to taste just like a doughnut, a really good one!

I really liked The BAO. It has a great vibe, casual but still upscale enough to make you feel like you’re out somewhere nice for the evening. And the prices are totally reasonable, with most sandwiches in the $10 to $14 range. Even with a drink or two (or an appetizer), you get a fun night out for about $30. And in Clayton, that’s a real deal.

14 N. Central Ave. | 314.899.9089

Pictured above | Fried Chicken: panko chicken, cabbage, kizaki, bao sauce