This faux-downscale place is the second venue of the creators of Bao Bei, owner Tannis Ling, executive chef Joël Watanabe, and sous chef Alain Chow. It’s an interesting fusion of two superb cuisines: Japanese and Italian. The first word of the name is a type of Japanese club, the second meaning “lots” in Italiano, I’m told. It’s trendy and fun, a pretty good place to see and be seen in spite of its apparently low-rent second-floor Chinatown location. The interior evokes comfort, and so does most of the food.
We were four on a Wednesday night, arriving early and seated quickly although the place filled up towards 6:30 or 7. Predictably for the restaurant’s popularity and the crowd it attracts, the noise was substantial. Our server was a very cheerful girl with an ironically self-deprecating sense of humour and unimpeachable knowledge of the menu and wine list.
Prices reflect the décor and offbeat pretense, not the real estate. $6-$9 for things like bread and olives, definitely more a Tokyo than a Puglia approach. Salads cluster just under $20, and mains were $22-$25. There were four shared items running into the $35 range. We chose a white barolo which had possibly a little more evergreen character than we were hoping for but was refreshing and reasonably priced at $58, preceded by one of the many cocktails on the list each.
The octopus salad was wonderful, two of us having just recently discovered what the best restaurants in southern Italy do with that marine creature. Here it was perfectly braised and then gently crisped, accompanied with a rich sour dressing and greens. We also had a delicious little lamb dish, the meat sliced almost like carpaccio accompanied with I think a bean or lentil purée. I was so excited by the word porchetta in the name of one of the dishes that I ignored the fact that it was agnolotti, a form of ravioli, and it was a bit disappointing, the meat stuffing pureed and tasting like nothing much of anything.
We went for the “fish”, marked as “market price” (which I don’t remember), as the major shared item and it was a lovely treat. A bass I think, at any rate a small (big trout-sized) whitefish that had been perfectly, I’m sure quickly, deep-fried after scoring the sides, gorgeously crispy but maintaining soft tenderness to the meat. The only problem with this was so much of the creature was head, tail, and bones. Two of us ended up chewing away at the last few shreds of flesh.
There was none of the annoying server attitude we experienced at Bao Bei; we were left to eat at whatever speed we wanted. I remember agreeing that the price was quite reasonable, but $180 per couple which included a 20% tip is what my marketing-trained daughter would call “well-priced”. By that she means you are a bit surprised at how much it is but considering what you get eventually you pay.
We would go back, but living out of town on weekends we sort of build up a backlog of great little restaurants we need to go to and much as this place charmed us, I’d be surprised if we got back any time soon. Food 8.8, service 9.0, ambience 8.7, value 8.0, peace and quiet 5.8.