A new Asian fusion restaurant in Astoria, which takes a fresh approach to bao, has already started to gain a loyal following in a matter of weeks.
First-time restaurant owner Johnny Shek opened the Bao Shoppe, at 30-66 Steinway St., at the end of March and he is already starting to recognize faces.
“People in Astoria have really taken to us,” he said. “We already have a good amount of regulars, who we see every day. People who work and live in the area are starting to come by a lot.”
The restaurant serves bao, traditional Chinese steamed buns, with a creative assortment of toppings, many of which one would not usually see on bao.
“It’s just a very whimsical menu. We’re trying to have fun with everything,” Shek said. “We’re trying to use not just Asian-style ingredients.”
The restaurant’s menu has six core buns, which include braised pork belly, smoked brisket, smoked pulled pork and fried chicken. There are also a number of vegetarian offerings on the menu, including the Hungry Buddhist bao, which has crispy tofu with daikon and kimchi.
The baos, open-style buns, are also topped with a variety of slaws, kimchi and homemade sauces. The menu also offers a number of side dishes and bubble teas.
“It’s fun food and something different that people don’t see a lot of,” Shek said. “We try to put a lot of combinations together.”
The Bao Shoppe has also started introducing specials every week, some of which have evolved into permanent fixtures on the menu because of their popularity.
Shek chose to open the Bao Shoppe in Astoria because the neighborhood has a vibrant and diverse restaurant scene that is quickly changing.
“I wanted to do it somewhere the food scene is changing and up to date,” he said. “In Flushing, it wouldn’t be as unique as there are already so many steamed buns places you can go to there.”
The new restaurateur grew up in Fresh Meadows and is a lifelong Queens resident. He received his formal training from the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan and worked in a number of restaurants, including his uncle’s catering hall, before venturing out on his own.
“I decided to open my own business rather than work for someone else for the rest of my life,” he said.
As the summer approaches, Shek said he is going to start introducing seafood baos to the menu. He said a new crab cake bao will soon be on the menu as a special. The store will also be unveiling a new Nutella milk shake with chocolate-covered pretzels in May along with a number of new smoothies and drinks.
“There are a lot of different things we’re developing,” he said. “We just want to see what we can do and what we can get away with.”
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2014 Community News Group
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