Bao Bei Named one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants

Bao Bei is a surprise number-two winner on the 2010 list of expense-account haunts that normally rank among Canada’s Best New Restaurants, revealed in the November issue of Air Canada’s enRoute. Critic Sarah Musgrave evokes the spot’s film-noir Chinatown setting and a hipster vibe (owner Tannis Ling likes McDonald’s cheeseburgers with sweet-and-sour sauce, she confides), and raves about the food, from the “crispy fishies” bar snacks to the “sumptuous shao bing sandwich” she tasted in June.

“For me, Bao Bei is the whole package,” Musgrave said in an interview with “I loved how locally sourced ingredients were woven into the dishes, I loved the tongue-in-cheek chinoiserie decor, the fun, feminine vibe… There isn’t anything else quite like it in the country—yet.”

On a list where the word “local” appears on almost every magazine page, enRoute’s declaration—”Here’s to Chinatown, the next generation”—is refreshing. “It’s not referencing China as much as it references Chinatown,” says Musgrave, which she poinpoints as very post-Olympic moment. “I feel like Vancouver is starting to look inward, at its own history… rather than looking outward and selling itself.” Following the Chambar (number 6 in 2005) template—chic atmosphere plus edgy location plus cleverly spun ethnic cuisine—Bao Bei’s new-gen chinois brasserie is bound to be this year’s headline stealer over the predictable winner (Haisai, the back-to-the-land rural-Ontario shrine of celebrity chef Michael Stadtländer, also named the number-one restaurant by Toronto Life several months ago).

Worry not, the rest of B.C. is holding up the 100-Mile end of things nicely. Stone Soup Inn, the Cowichan Valley seafood temple of Chef Brock Windsor (formerly of Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro), is at number 5. Longtime Sooke Harbour House chef and pioneering locavore Edward Tuson sneaks in at number 8 with Edge in Sooke, B.C. “I love B.C. because it manages to make food political and sexy at the same time,” says Musgrave.

Also visited by enRoute this year, and tallying points in its annually amusing round-up of trendy dining affectations, are Acme Cafe, The Diamond, Judas Goat, Mis Trucos, Pourhouse and Oru.

Vancouver has always fared well in the enRoute survey. It boasted Canada’s Best New Restaurant in 2009 (Cibo) and 2006 (Nu) and has had at least one restaurant in the Top 10 every year since the survey started in 2003. That former enRoute restaurant critics (Chrises Johns and Nuttall-Smith) are both onetime West Coast-dwellers contributed to that. A more likely explanation is that Vancouver’s been setting the country’s table for nearly a decade, and the rest of Canada is following. The izakaya chaos of Guu charmed Torontonians this summer. Look for bibimbap, ramen or spot prawns to take the country by storm next?

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