Over three visits I've tried 12 of the 15 or so items on the menu, and I'll admit that at first I didn't get what the Baowry was trying to be. The sizzling rice soup ($10, for two) seemed a little off from the standard, until I realized what was bugging me about it was that it was scratch-made and had its own personality. Meaty, perfectly cooked shell-on shrimp, pork belly, and braised greens are the chef's unusual additions, but the familiar toasted rice squares hiss warmly in the fresh, dark broth, making for a deeply satisfying bowl.
The chile garlic prawns ($14, for sharing), a heaping serving of butterflied, shell-on shrimp in a butter-enriched garlic-chile sauce, was another one of the better dishes. Dealing with the peel is worth the mess, as the meat keeps its tender texture and delicate moisture; the mildly spicy sauce evenly coats a generous bed of noodles. The braised greens ($5) are truly excellent, with deeply smoky bacon (ordered from a Montana purveyor) and a vinegary garlic-miso broth that should be drunk once the vegetables are gone. Unconventional happy hour banh mi ($5) are overstuffed versions of the classic and feature togarashi fried chicken, confit duck, "red cooked pork," or their shiitake tofu terrine. The crisp chicken tenderloin version, with pickled vegetables, cilantro, cucumber, and aioli, delivered a lot of flavor and pleasure for a bar snack, so I ordered a second while enjoying the first.
The duck plate ($22) is their flagship item, featuring two large leg quarters of Peking "style" (confit) duck and all the trimmings: four large steamed buns, house-made hoisin and plum sauces, pickled vegetables, and pickled chiles. The meat is abundant and moist, and while the skin is under-crisped and under-seasoned for my taste (this is where the dish can really stand out), it's rich and well cooked. The Baowry steak ($16) is a generous portion of surprisingly tender marinated meat, grilled medium-rare but also a little lacking in sear. Served with a poached egg, slaw, and shiitake mushrooms, it was a balanced set of flavors but needed something dry or crunchy to offset all the soft textures.
Service has been thorough and quick during off-peak times, though at capacity it shows signs of stress. Appetizers and entrées can come out all at once after a long wait, crowding the modest table and forcing some items to sit and cool while others are rushed through.
The Baowry, is an important and inspiring chapter in the revitalization of St. Johns. More useful in a day-to-day sense, though, the food shows promise, imagination, and integrity.-CHRIS ONSTAD