CP Photo: Kimberly Rooney
A variety of dim sum at 芋见BAO
Compared to other cross streets between Forbes and Fifth avenues in Oakland, Atwood Street is a little quieter. Among the eateries on Atwood is 芋见BAO, which offers classic dim sum that can be difficult to find on Pittsburgh menus.
芋见BAO has a spacious dine-in area that, once you descend several steps, invites you in with warm brick walls and sleek dark furniture. What was once Night Market Gourmet, 芋见BAO has new management and a new approach to its menu, boasting larger entrees, soups (both noodle and otherwise), and rice dishes, in addition to a variety of dim sum.
Dim sum are small dishes that originated in Guangzhou in southern China. The phrase typically calls to mind dumplings, buns, starchy or glutinous cakes, and light desserts, and 芋见BAO’s dim sum menu covers all of these. To try as wide a variety as possible, I ordered with my partner and we shared the dim sum dishes, which came with enough pieces for us to enjoy at least one or two of everything.
The name of the restaurant refers to 芋, or taro, a tropical root vegetable common in African, South Asian, and Oceanic cuisines. While 芋见 translates directly to “seeing taro,” it’s also a homophone for “meet” or “come across,” creating a secondary phrase “come across bao,” or “come across steamed buns.”
Living up to its name, 芋见BAO has several bao options, including Pork Buns 肉包, Vegetable Buns 菜包, and Pork and Dry Bamboo Buns 笋干肉包. Each comes with six buns and has the option between steamed or pan fried preparation. I opted for steamed Pork Buns 肉包, and the pillowy dough and subtle sweetness combined with a more robust savory flavor in the meat filling was an excellent start to the meal.
I also opted for the Steamed Dumplings Platter 各式蒸饺子拼盘, which includes three Steamed Crystal Shrimp Dumplings 蒸水晶虾饺, three Spinach and Shrimp Dumplings 蒸菠菜虾饺子, and four Steamed Shrimp King SiuMai 蒸虾皇烧麦.
Steamed Crystal Shrimp Dumplings 蒸水晶虾饺, also known as har gow, is one of my favorite types of dim sum. I haven’t had it in nearly a decade, and 芋见BAO’s iteration instantly brought me back to large dinners with relatives and family friends, rolling carts, and small circular dim sum tins. The subtle flavor and spice of the shrimp filling balanced well with the light, slightly chewy exterior that made me tear up with nostalgia.
The Spinach and Shrimp Dumplings 蒸菠菜虾饺子 had a similar taste, with the spinach giving an unobtrusive flavor and smooth texture. The SiuMai 烧麦, which is commonly spelled Shumai, were heavier in their dough and filling, as well as stronger in flavor, while maintaining a lightness that left plenty of room to sample more food.
Dim sum wouldn’t be complete without a starchy or glutinous cake, so I also tried the Pan-Fried Radish Cake 萝卜糕, which was crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside. While it was light on the fillings, it wasn’t too oily, and the three slices of radish cake provided a delightful texture after the softer dumplings and bao.
In addition to excellent dim sum, 芋见BAO offers a variety of entrees, and the Taiwan Basil Chicken 台式三杯鸡 was particularly delicious. The spiciness was well balanced with the soothing basil, which appeared in both fresh and fried forms. The chicken was juicy and mostly lean, with fried skin and fat that held bursts of flavor, and the occasional bones were easy to eat around.
Fried Sesame Balls 芝麻球 were a perfect way to finish off the meal, with light, crispy exteriors that were delicately browned and contained a good balance between glutinous rice flour and sweet red bean paste fillings. To mimic the warmth of eating them fresh out of the fryer, I microwaved them for about 25 seconds, and my partner and I quickly finished off the three sesame balls, splitting the last one between us.
Dim sum can be an expensive meal, with each platter only containing a handful of pieces that are meant to be small and light. But when split with a friend, dim sum becomes a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a wide array of delicious dishes, and 芋见BAO delivers on that potential.
芋见BAO. 114 Atwood St., Oakland. nightmarketgourmet.com