Fine Wine

Once a foodie, always a foodie | Kathy Marcks Hardesty | Wine

When I experienced my first job in a restaurant, it was an old fashioned coffee shop where I was hired to make sandwiches. That was a good start, since I couldn’t cook at the age of 19, but the kindly woman chef there began teaching me how to fry an egg and make perfectly crisp bacon.

I didn’t stay there long, it didn’t ignite the foodie in me. I found a job I liked more in a head shop selling rock and roll posters and scented candles. We also sold (cigarette) papers, but not marijuana (to the disbelief of some people).

My next change was becoming a bartender in a beer and wine bar. I didn’t drink alcohol but I Ioved talking to people. I can make small talk with a perfect stranger, especially if it’s sharing restaurant tips.

The owner of the full bar next door liked me so much, he offered me a job. I said I didn’t know how to make cocktails, but he said they would teach me. I stayed with him over five years, and then I found a job at the nicest restaurant and lounge in our small Northern California town.

That experience changed my life. I became a die-hard foodie thanks to our great Hawaiian chef there. I began spending my day off in San Francisco exploring the awesome food scene there. That’s when I decided to become a chef, and signed up for the California Culinary Academy. It’s also where I learned to appreciate that fine wine was a natural part of fine dining.

That school was a dream come true, I loved nearly every minute of it. The trouble was, I was a few years older than the kids fresh out of high school, who had wealthy parents (they had to be to afford that expensive college of cooking). And most of the young students didn’t have very good taste or the passion, which doesn’t make for a good future chef.

Part of that dream was living in San Francisco, where my husband Dan and I dined out several days a week. I’ve never lost my excitement over the opening of new fine dining experiences. That’s why I quickly ran over to San Luis Obispo to check out the new (long planned) SLOPublicMarket .com last weekend.

When we walked in, there was a line at Bing’s Bao Buns with about seven people waiting to order their favored choice. I told Dan let’s walk around and check out the place, then we’ll come back and get in line.

The trouble with that decision, the line had doubled and it wasn’t moving very fast. We chose to eat at Baht (the name is same name for the currency in Thailand), a Thai quick food eatery. Then we went over to Bottlecraft, a beer and wine bar, to get a seat and a fresh brew to enjoy with our food. The manager told me they were open but didn’t have the usual stock they carry at their other brewpubs in San Diego and LA.

A customer was sitting very near us, who had a large round take-out container of four or five of Bing’s Bao Buns. As he was feasting on those generous steamed buns, I could see that they had a lot of stuffing, the specials that day being crab and a vegetarian tofu version.

I’ve seen such buns that seemed to be mostly bun and little filling. I asked him how they were: “Great!” he enthused, “I’ve had them before and I love them.” Bing used to serve them while catering, from his home kitchen. This guy enjoying them was a foodie like me, and we talked a while about the best Central Coast chefs. Now I can hardly wait to return to try those decadent looking steamed buns.

While I was picking up my order of Thai food, I heard the bun staff yell out, “We’re out of buns!” When that happens they close. There was a huge sigh of disappointment from the many people still in line. After they closed I spoke with Bing’s wife and partner. She told me he had made 350 buns, all rolled by hand and usually makes 500 buns, and they sell out every day they are open.

Currently they are only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from noon until they sell out, which is in no time. That day, 350 buns were purchased within 90 minutes. She admitted she always feels bad when she has to announce they are sold out. They have even chosen to post an apology on their webpage at bingsbaobuns .com:

“Bings Bao Buns changes the menu weekly. We are doing our best to manage expectations and we want to sincerely apologize to those who have waited in line without getting your hands on our buns. All of the buns are handmade with great care. We are a small family owned and operated business and we are working toward increasing the total bun count everyday.” They still offer catering for private events.

This is great indication of more good things to come in this food court-like atmosphere at the SLO Public Market. At this point you can already get some great eats at Mama Ganache,

Central Coast Creamery, the Neighborhood Acai & Juice Bar, the Perfect Scoop Ice Cream, and Veg on the Edge. You can expect many more good things to come!

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