Monday, November 9, 2009

Good mall food @ Take a Bao

I headed over to Century City Mall to catch the movie Men Who Stare at Goats, and a quick lunch beforehand. I didn't realize that Century City Mall is practically a ghost town at 11am on a Sunday. The shops are just opening and the parking garage is empty enough that you can park your car right by the escalators. The mall was renovated over a year ago by Aussie retail property giant Westfield Group; most of the work was done to the movie theatre and the Dining Terrace, a euphemism for the mall food court. Aside from the Dining Terrace, the mall also houses restaurants such as Houston's, Rocksugar and Breadbar. Since we had less than an hour before our movie started, we opted for the food court. But this isn't your regular mall food court. They use real cutlery (not plastic), have a well-lit modern indoor seating and outdoor seating with lovely views of the city.

There are quite a lot of food options. Sorabol Korean was my favorite lunch stand when I was working in the area. They also have a Coral Tree Express, California Crisp and Lawry's Carvery in the food court. But the one that I made a beeline for was Take a Bao. It opened over a year ago and I've been wanting to try it. The menu focuses on modern variations of the Chinese bao, which is a steamed bun that is most commonly filled with marinated pork. The bao is also used as a wrap for slices of peking duck. Apart from the baos, they also offer noodles, rice bowls and salads.

We got there at 11.15am and apparently the stand opens at 11.30am. We stood there admiring the ingredients through the looking glass. Thankfully, the cashier had just arrived so she let us order and rung us up.

Display of some of their dishes.

What struck me as interesting was that I saw the cashier actually adding real ingredients and even soup into the bowls that went into the display setting. Kind of a nice touch to make the display items more appetizing.

The cook preparing my meal as I watched salivating.

Glasses of wine to go with our lunch.

I ordered the duo of any choice of baos for $9.50 with a side of napa salad. I ordered them with wheat baos, after all I shouldn't negate all the calories I burnt surfing this morning, right? Yes, wheat options are so LA, but I like having the option. Every little bit helps.

Miso Beef Bao
Miso braised boneless short rib, pickled carrots, marinated cucumbers, radish sprouts
This had a lot of flavor although we couldn't really taste the miso. The pickled cucumbers were a nice addition and added a tang to the bao. I also liked the side salad which had a light, slightly sour dressing and topped with deep fried wontons crackers for that added crunch.

Signature BBQ Pork Bao
Braised BBQ pork, ginger, hoisin, red onions, pea shoots, marinated cucumbers.
I was expecting this to be more like char siew bao, but instead it was more like southern pulled pork. I liked the pork which was tender and well marinated. Unfortunately, there was too much pea shoots in the bun and they had that raw and distinct bitter flavor that overpowered the whole dish.

Pea shoot overkill. I had to take them out of the bun.

Curry vegetable noodles
Glazed tofu, broccoli, caramelized shitake mushrooms, bok choy, green beans, napa cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, scallions and cilantro
As a full fledged carnivore, I was skeptical of this all-veggie dish. But it was tasty. First of all, what a big bowl of goodness. Secondly, it smelt amazing. The scent of curry was fragrant and comforting. Thirdly, the curry seasoning was so flavorful that you didn't realize that you were eating veggies. SMART! And lastly, those mushrooms were deliciously earthy.

There was a musician playing Beatles/Lennon songs on the patio. It's really great to have lunch with Beatles music as your backdrop. You get the feeling that you are dining in a fun spot, instead of just feeding yourself during a shopping spree.

This was a satisfying meal, something that you usually couldn't find in any other food court but yet light enough so as not to hold you down during a two hour movie. The prices were affordable, although definitely pricier than your regular shopping grub. The only comment we had was that the baos seemed so much more exciting when the ingredients were listed on the menu. They weren't bad, in fact, I ate every last bite of it, but the ingredients weren't complex layers as you would have expected, and hence the baos didn't really live up to the high expectation set by the menu. But I'll take this over greasy pizza slices any day.

Hits: curry noodles, option for wheat bun, interesting bao options
Misses: pea shoot
Rate: ***

Take a Bao
10250 Santa Monica Blvd.,
los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 551-1100

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