October 26, 2010 | Short Order
Is Michael Huynh desperate or brilliant? Taste his quesadilla.
Baoster chef Michael Huynh joins his Mexican chef in the kitchen. Photo: Steven Richter.
I can’t decide if Michael “Bao” Huynh is desperate or brilliant. Or just baofuddled. Certainly the little cup of salsa he has set down in front of us at Baoritta is fabulous. “Yuzu, fish sauce and, hey, George, what are those little green things called?” he yells out to his Mexican cook. “Tomatillos,” comes the answer.
We are perched on high stools, waiting for our order at his latest pocketsize venture, where his wife briefly ran Baoguette/Thao Noodles. “She got tired of cooking,” he explains.
Spicy Thai beef and pickled jalapenos lend an Asian touch to nachos. Photo: Steven Richter.
There was a lease and a stove so what could he do? Rather than copy himself at Baoguette on Christopher Street or DOB 111 at St. Marks Place, he seized on the idea of reinventing Mexican with Asian accents. My friends are scooping up guacamole. I’m tipping my blue corn chip in that global green yuzu goo.
There are seats for 15 or so in the closet-like space or there would be if there were enough stools. Mostly people come in, study the menu, stomp out or order and carry away. There's a steady stream checking in. By 9 the paper menus have disappeared. Chili basil beef with lemongrass and green mango salsa, tadoori (sic) chicken with chipotle sour cream and spicy onion lime chutney, coconut dill tumeric baby shrimp with jalapeno cucumber relish mole kewpie (whatever that is) are among half a dozen exotic orphans available as a burrito or in a bowl for $7, in a crispy or soft taco for $3.50 or on a salad of chopped romaine lettuce with herbs, pinto beans and honey line vinaigrette. There’s tilapia too or substitute mushroom if you’re a vegetarian.
Chicken wings mole top right, nachos, guacamole, quesadilla. Photo: Steven Richter.
The spicy guacamole is first-rate and I’m wild about the juicy chicken wings mole, sticky and spicy, devouring the paper napkins. I always regret nachos even when they’re wonderful because when all is said and done they are still nachos – looking like a garbage dump. I’m picking out the pickled jalapenos tonight and eating more chips laden with cheesy Thai basil beef than any sane woman would or should. The big flat spicy pork belly quesadilla with cheese and green mango kimchi, cut into half a dozen wedges and piled into a paper dish, loses something toward the bottom of the pile, but that first wedge, stuffed with sour cream, leaking all over the table, is half way between terrifying excess and immensely satisfying.
It’s an adventure. Quesadilla in full frontal nudity, tacos at 12 o’clock. Photo: Steven Richter.
Let’s have a splash of habenero salsa on the spicy short rib taco. A fried quail egg lends a certain je ne sais quoi to the bimbibao -- hangersteak-kimchi in a taco. I wish I’d ordered it first when I was still hungry.
Huynh returns from coaching the kitchen team to gauge our joy. He stops the chef as he wanders by. “Hey Gus. His name is Gus but we call him George. Tell me, do you like this stuff?” He points to the yuzu-tomatillo-fish sauce.
Gus nods. “Yes I like it. I was surprised. It’s very good.”
“It’s important that he likes it,” says Michael. “They can’t cook it if they don’t like it.” 241 Third Avenue between 19th and 20th Street. 212 254 2277.
Click here to return to Short Order Listing.