People who pause to think about the name of Xiao Bao Biscuit, which last month continued its march to national prominence with a New York Times write-up, often ask what kind of biscuits the Spring Street restaurant serves.
Typically, the answer is none. But the response changes on Fridays, when bang bang biscuits hit the menu.
The chicken biscuits are a riff on shaobing, a Northern Chinese layered flatbread that’s often covered with sesame seeds. The Xiao Bao crew added yeast as “a nod to our name and the South and growing up eating biscuits,” owner Josh Walker e-mails. “(Yes it’s technically fusion. )” Continue reading
Celebrity chefs’ reverence for ramen – the subject of the first-ever issue of Lucky Peach, David Chang’s uber-hip food quarterly, and a recurring theme on Anthony Bourdain’s shows – has helped a nation of eaters understand there’s much more to the genre than the noodle packages they bought for a dime apiece as college students. But now that ramen’s common, it’s tsukemen’s turn.
Like ramen, tsukemen is composed of noodles, pork, egg and vegetal accoutrements. But if ramen is a symphony, tsukemen is a concerto, with each component taking a solo turn. Instead of mixing the elements together in a bowl of hot broth, a tsukemen chef serves the noodles, naked and cool, alongside a concentrated dipping broth. Tsukemen – pronounced SKEH-men, almost like lemon – is ideal for warm days. Continue reading
Xiao Bao Biscuit is exploring new markets across the Southeast, but co-owner Joey Ryan says the restaurant will maintain its Charleston address.
“We are at home in Charleston,” Ryan says. “This place is and always will be the heart of our company.”
As first reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times, XBB is considering opening a restaurant in a vacant gas station just north of downtown Asheville. Ryan says sous chef Patrick O’Cain, an Asheville native who previously worked at Curate, “will play a greater role in the company because he has been a huge part of our success here.” Continue reading
Charleston is notably short on Lunar New Year events – best as I can tell, the nearest Lion Dance is set to unfold 92 miles away – but Xiao Bao Biscuit is marking the holiday with an all-Sichuan menu.
The Xiao Bao crew recently returned from Asia with a stash of hua jiao, or Northern Chinese peppercorns, gifted to them by a restaurant owner who was awed by their respect for traditional cuisine. The fragrant, floral peppers, which tickle the tongue until it’s mildly numb, will form the backbone of the Jan. 31 line-up.
Chef Josh Walker describes the peppercorns as “amazing.”
Unused gym treadmills aren’t the only item in short supply after the holidays: Grocers say local demand for turmeric surges after New Year’s.
“This time of year, you know, everyone’s doing cleansing, juicing, New Year’s resolutions,” says a staffer at Whole Foods in Mt. Pleasant, which weekly sells 10 pounds of the root.
Turmeric, sometimes called “Indian saffron,” is commonly used in Asian cooking: At Xiao Bao Biscuit, it’s a prominent ingredient in a Vietnamese dish featuring pan-seared fish. But the peppery plant is valued as much for its health benefits as its flavor: Traditional Chinese and Indian healers have long touted turmeric’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral qualities, prescribing it as a remedy for stomach troubles, skin conditions and achy bones. Continue reading
Modern Vietnamese cuisine was deeply influenced by French colonization, and Xiao Bao Biscuit this weekend is making the connection explicit with a French bistro-style dinner.
The restaurant on Saturday will celebrate the release of Beaujolais Noveau by giving its kitchen staff a chance to flaunt their fine dining backgrounds; although the a la carte menu hasn’t yet been released , owner Joey Ryan says it will consist of traditional French dishes.
“Music to match,” he promises.
Every time I write about a restaurant marking its founding date, I agonize over whether to refer to the event as a birthday or anniversary. But with the kind of party Xiao Bao Biscuit’s planning for its very first special day, I feel comfortable calling it a birthday.
The restaurant’s invited Bev Eggelston of Eco Friendly Foods to smoke a steamship round (that’s your top round, bottom round and eye round) of beef on Saturday, Nov. 16. “Rumors of Korean fried chicken should also be taken seriously,” co-owner Joey Ryan adds. “Beer and cocktails will most assuredly be on hand as well.”
The party starts at 1 p.m., and runs until closing or the food sells out.
Charleston isn’t always on the way to New York City, but if you’re coming from China, it’s close enough: Former Brooklyn chef Vinh Nguyen, who’s just completed a working stint in Shanghai, is planning to guest chef a Xiao Bao Biscuit dinner on his way home next month.
“He’s been doing a lot of travelling around Asia,” XBB owner Josh Walker says of the influences which might appear on Nguyen’s menu.
Shanghainese cuisine tends to make heavy use of soy, sugar and seafood. But the region’s best-known dish is xiao long bao, the soup dumplings which have inspired obsessions that would make the average ramen lover blush. Continue reading
“Lowcountry food isn’t really spicy,” says Josh Walker, owner and chef of Xiao Bao Biscuit. Although peppers thrive in lowcountry soil, and hot sauce has long been a standard condiment in local kitchens, area residents have traditionally preferred to wring flavor from salt, onions, butter and cream.
Walker and his crew didn’t set out to spice up the Charleston diet. But an unintended consequence of the young restaurant’s extraordinary popularity may be an increased collective tolerance for heat.
“When we say spicy, we mean spicy,” Walker says of dishes accentuated with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns. Walker rues the promiscuous use of the word “spicy,” which is now blithely affixed to fast food tacos and mass-produced potato chips. As he points out, a dusting of industrial red powder can’t prepare the palate for the level of heat which is integral to certain Asian cuisines.
But the palate can be trained: Walker’s witnessed the phenomenon behind-the-scenes at Xiao Bao.