When I was a teenager I visited my brother, who was then living in a studio apartment with two friends in the West Village. We would walk down to Chinatown, to a carryout window where a dollar would buy you one large, hot-off-the-steamer bao filled with char sui barbecued pork.
It wasn’t just the seasoning and the ingredients that made it taste so good, but also that inimitable sensation of eating food that had just minutes before been transformed by steam. Sticky to the touch, airy to the bite, gushy in the center, steamy enough to fog your glasses.
I’d love to repeat the feeling at Yum Bunz, but after one meal my first impression is that the namesake bao are the weakest link in an otherwise pleasant quick-service Asian restaurant. The team behind this clean, modern newcomer to the Westside’s restaurant row consists of Guy Wong from Miso Izakaya and Mike Blum from The Real Chow Baby. The concept is not-so-loosely modeled after Wow Bao, a small Chicago chain.
The buns come in a half dozen flavors and use good ingredients, such as local vegetables and naturally raised meats. That’s the good news.
The bad: Both of the buns I tried (teriyaki chicken and curry chicken) had pasty fillings that didn’t steam, gush or tumble unpredictably. I found out that the buns are made off site in a factory, transported frozen to the restaurant and reheated — showily, from an open kitchen — in steamers.
I would imagine that preparing the dough and fillings on site and proofing the buns would involve a lot more work than this restaurant could handle if it routinely fills the 100 or so seats in the dining room. But I wonder if that’s precisely what’s needed to make these buns as crave worthy as those I ate at that carryout window in New York.
Other dishes fared much better. Pork-chive dumplings are far better than the potstickers I buy frozen in bags. A kale salad with candied coconut, radish and miso dressing made its weird case. The restaurant also serves bowls that you customize with your choice of protein, sauce and starch. This will be a useful restaurant on the Westside for those times when you need a good Asian fix, bunz or no bunz.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog