Bar Bao Is a Bit Bar Blah

| 02 Mar 2015 | 04:28

    michael bao huynh, whose résumé includes stints at mai house and bun, has brought a few dishes from his previous establishments to his new venture in the former space occupied by rain. the cinnamon-spiced lamb lollipops from bun, the iron-pot chicken featured in the new york times and many others are all available here, but it's the newer dishes that have reignited chef huynh's inspiration. you're meant to eat family-style, sharing each new dish with your companions, but the portions are so small that you might want to order a few more options than usual.

    the most celebrated of those new dishes is arguably the daikon duck hash ($12), which has garnered a lot of press and is worth every ounce of ink spilled on it. a small skillet arrives at the table with a few pieces of duck scattered among cubes of rice cake, all topped with a poached egg that you're instructed to mix well into the dish to combine the egg yolk with the sweet soy to make the dishes' sauce yourself. the duck bits are succulent without being greasy, and the whole thing is so sumptuous and fatty that you'll be delirious while the dish lasts and grateful when it's taken away.

    the other dishes are all serviceable; some flavor pairings come close to creative greatness but lack the x-factor that elevates a dining experience to the sublime. salt and pepper calamari ($12) are perfectly cooked (if overly breaded) and served with a perfectly tangy dipping sauce, but how exciting can everyone's favorite diner snack be?

    summer rolls ($8) are fresh, though the berkshire pork gets lost in the mix and the sushi-style presentation makes eating the roll a messier experience than it should be.

    an entrée of black cod ($23) is small, overpriced and entirely unmemorable. from all accounts, the noodles here are better (and pricier) than your average vietnamese noodle shop and the outstanding veggie noodles ($13) are no exception. studded with oyster mushrooms and asian eggplant, they go a long way to satisfying any hunger pangs you may feel after inhaling that tiny black cod.

    the overall tone of competency without excellence extends to the cocktail list, which offers merely serviceable specialty drinks. the extra-light dharma punk ($11) cucumber cocktail is crisp, but almost too light to register on the palate once the food arrives. the saffron-accented china beach ($11), with tamarind and gin, has lovely flavor but perhaps is slightly too sweet overall, a problem a ginger-accented caipirinha called the jane fonda shares. wines run from reasonably priced to obviously marked-up.

    dessert wise, we skipped the popular yucca waffle and the strange-sounding flan for two chocolate ice cream cones laced with chili pepper. it's probably the least inventive option on the dessert menu, but the sweet and the heat are perfectly balanced. besides, eating an ice-cream cone while surrounded by suits and ties left a smile on my face that the meal hadn't managed to achieve. luckily, i managed to avoid having that smile wiped off by the low-hanging light fixtures hanging at face level on my way out. -- bar bao 100 w. 82nd st. at columbus avenue 212-501-0776 entrees: $16 to $27