Monday, April 20, 2009

Bao Noodles: Not So Wow

I went alone to Bao Noodles for lunch this afternoon because it is a beautiful afternoon in New York and I wanted to walk far from my office and trick myself into thinking that it was not a day the majority of which I would spend in front of a computer in a little windowless box.

The restaurant has a cool, old Manhattan bar feeling to it, with big wooden booths that might be old church pews, painted tin ceilings and a cracked tile floor. It's a small and cozy space, but it wasn't crowded at one o'clock on a week day afternoon. There's also a pretty bar with milk glass lights. It's a nice setting, and I was thinking "date night!", or "after work drinks!", or "more solitary lunches..."

But here comes the sad part: Bao falls from grace by way of the "service" of one very bad waiter. At first glance, he just seemed surly. I barely registered his nasty attitude when he slung a glass of lukewarm water (albeit in a very cool shaped Tiger beer glass) on the table in front of me. I started to dislike him when he tossed three pieces of the slightly sticky menu on my table like a frisbee, two pages of which skidded off the table and onto the floor while he kept walking past. When he came back to the table to take my order, he just glared down at me, silent. "Maybe he is having a very bad day," I thought, practicing my mother's advice that I should stop assuming everything is about me. "Maybe he had a terrible break-up last night, and I should be warm and kind to remind him that there are nice strangers in this world..." So, when he returned to the table with my salad, I gave him a big smile and a enthusiastic, "Thanks!"

Crickets. Silence. He walked away quickly.

The salad was weird. It was primarily composed of bean sprouts, which were dressed with an admittedly nice vinegarette on top of very large, uncut leafy greens. I felt like I was eating an entire plant with chopsticks. Halfway through my salad, a messy-haired wild-eyed man came out from the kitchen carrying an armful of surgical tubing. He looked around for a moment, then rushed out of the restaurant. I'm not sure what this has to do with anything, but it seemed worth mentioning.

Surlywaiter returned with my lemongrass chicken, droppped it in front of me in silence, avoiding my eyes. I started thinking, "Do I know him? Did I do something mean to him?" I watched him return to the bar, and then suddenly -- Surly's eyes lit up! A cute laid-off investment banker type appeared at the bar and received Surly's smiles, laughs and immediate service. He started drinking, and Surly actively mixed new and exotic drinks for cute laid of investment banker while continuing to actively ignore me and all of the other people in the restaurant, some of whom were flailing their arms in the air in an attempt to catch his eye for the check.

The lemongrass chicken was fine. The chicken was well cooked and not dry at all, but it was a bit salty. The portion was huge, I could only eat a quarter of it.

Mid-way through my entrée, more people came in and started heavily drinking at the bar. Surly liked these people, too, and he was a rainbow of smiles. When cute laid-off investment banker went to the bathroom, Surly used his alone time to drop off my check and the checks of everyone eating around me, seemingly without regard to where they were in the meals. It didn't matter to me, though. I was happy to cut this meal short.
Leaving the restaurant, I almost stepped on a dead rat on the sidewalk. I know this isn't the restaurant's fault, but I took it as an omen.

Space: lovely
Food: ok
Cost: $9.00 for salad and lemongrass chicken.
Service: nasty

391 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10010
(212) 725-7770