At the (not-so) soft opening of Bao Bao Dumpling House last Friday, I learned two things. Chef Cara Stadler deserves the media darling status she has achieved and Portland’s dining scene is not as cut-throat as it seems. As the saying goes, the more saints in heaven, the more room.
I sidled up to the sunken bar and ordered an Oxbow farmhouse (best with dumplings) and perused the menu. Seated to my left was Sam Hayward and Dana Street. The power duo behind Fore Street, Street and Co. and soon Scales (2), were halfway through a five-course meal and ready to socialize.
I asked the epicure elder statesmen for a recommendation, because that’s what you do in situations like this. “Order the hake or lamb,” they said between chop sticking and white wine drinking.
The guy on the other side, from Timber Steakhouse, suggested the smashed cucumbers for starters. The spicy, vinegary green spears whetted the appetite and allowed me time to converse with the team that put Portland on the food map.
Street who lives nearby was pleased to have this top-shelf Chinese dining room open at last, although, like most urbanites, he missed the West End Deli (now on Congress St).
In a city where restaurants are opening in a New York minute it’s almost hard to drum up enthusiasm (first world problems). But these guys were excited by Stadler’s expertly turned out pillows of love and that bubbled over and permeated through the snug, yet sleek, space.
When my lamb dumplings arrived, with three sauces, I dove right in. The sweet ambrosial flavor, that not even a James Beard award winner like Hayward could name, satisfied on a cellular level. Speaking of cells, I was so enraptured by the textures, I didn’t whip out my phone to snap pix. Food and company this good deserves respect.
Hayward sampled a vodka and asked intelligent questions of the barkeep about fermentation notes. You know, average bar talk in Portland. Next to me an Asian traveler took out his point-and-shoot to snap the menu and turned to capture the copper dragon sculpture that dominates the wall. A stylish couple dressed in black were escorted to their table. Another order of dumplings landed on the bar.
Welcome to Spring Street Bao Bao, thanks for bringing excitement back.