Steak tartar like never before

Bao Bei steak tartar with lotus root chips, Tim Pawsey photo

Vancouver’s Chinatown has fallen on rough times these last few years, its once unique shopping eclipsed by Richmond’s glitzy malls. Even our foraging finds us more often at T&T’s live seafood bar than the eminently more interesting fishmongers on Gore and Pender.

Until now, with the exception perhaps of oversized Floata, restaurants worth a detour were few and far between.

Enter Bao Bei (163 Keefer St., 604-688-0876), Tannis Ling’s comfortably funky Brasserie on Chinatown’s eastern edge.

Perched at the bar, you could swear it’s been there for years, cocooned in a comfortable familiarity: a high ceilinged foyer, plank board decor, overstuffed armchairs and found bric a brac which preserve the heritage setting.

Bao Bei also delivers on the menu, which Ling aptly calls ‘petits plats Chinois’: slow braised pork belly; a classic Shao Bing variation; potstickers, dumplings (‘Petits Cadeaux’) and more.

The food is well conceived and often visually appealing, such as the  Pemberton beef tenderloin tartar, topped with a quails egg, and served with lotus root chips, too fragile for scooping but never mind. We wind up licking our fingers.

Days later we’re still salivating for one more taste of tender stir-fried squid and pork belly teased with chillies.

Hint: get there early, especially on game nights.

We’ll be back!