The Place: Bao Dim Sum House, 8256 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles; (323-655-6556).
The Hours: 5-7 p.m. and all day at the bar.
The Deals: $1.99 Sapporo drafts, iffy wine for $4 a glass, “large” cups of hot sake for $5, and selected dim sum specialties for as little as $2.95 each.
The Digs: The giant buddha head is a bit much. Water streams out of the top. Like a single, relentless, limitless tear, it splashes down in sheets over his face. He peers out at Bao Dim Sum House's small waiting area, illuminated by small candles perched on a wall of stained wood slats. If subtlety is your thing, the restaurant is stingy with it. However, if you like to hide, the interior is so dark you could build a fort under one of the tables and no one would notice until you had to clamber up into the lamp-light to order more pork buns. The intent is an authentic dim sum joint squeezed into a sleek suit, a cucumber saketini clasped between the tips of its slim fingers. The result is the kind of restaurant that we usually enjoy ridiculing.
The Verdict: Screw us though. What's more fun than drinking overpriced session brews at a dirty dive bar? Drinking underpriced session brews at a pseudo-swank, monumentally un-hip dim sum-servin' cocktail lounge. Tall, half-frozen glasses of Sapporo are delicious and, at $2 apiece, a fine deal. That aspect of the happy hour alone gives this place a passing grade — along with the fact that happy hour happens all day at the bar.
We could care less about cheap sake or the house wine at a Chinese place, but it was nice finding out that the food isn't totally bad either. Shot through with bits of chicken and coins of sausage, sticky rice-stuffed lotus leaf parcels ($4.95 for two) possess a warming, comforting appeal. The crystal shrimp dumplings, or har gow ($4.95 for four), don't have that cemented-with-wallpaper paste quality for which the dumplings at truly crappy dim sum places are known. Xiao long bao — dubbed “juicy pork dumplings” ($3.95 for four) — have tops as leathery as overcooked muffins. They come in little silver tins too. “Watch out, there's soup inside!” exclaimed our beaming bartender. After a vampirish nibble, no jets of porky wonder spurt forth; the dumplings simply deflate and ooze. Still, the flavor's close enough, and when you're slippery on Sapporo and looking for a nice halftime snack that hasn't passed through a vat of bubbling oil, they're a better option than the alternative — not eating anything at all.
Overall Grade: B-