Driving to Wicked Bao in its tucked away historic Fernandina location fills me with anticipation. Ahead of me are hours of convivial atmosphere, playful flavors, and signature drinks. The building on the corner of North 2nd Street and Calhoun Street looks festive with its lanterns and colors, but at night, it’s magical! Seeing it gleam from within makes me eager to see owner Nathalie Wu’s warm smile and try what she and her staff are offering this evening.
On this day, Patti Burch and I were there when the doors opened at 4 p.m.—early, we thought—but within minutes, the bar and tables were full of devotees who were also waiting for Ms. Wu to open her doors. With its fast casual Asian street food, Wicked Bao is indeed popular. Many times, my family and I have enjoyed reading the menu and specials on the wall, ordering and paying, sitting on the porch to eat, and exiting down the whimsical ramp.
Wicked Bao will be five years old on December 20. The menu doesn’t change, but chef’s specials do change seasonally. Twice yearly, she spends a week at a favorite or a new foody place. After this year’s jaunt to Asheville, North Carolina, she will unveil her fall chef’s specials in September. It’s possible, she says, that one special will be seared duck breast with jasmine rice and spinach-citrus salad.
We began with small plates: the house-made Chongqing spice on the flash-fried corn quarters lit the pilot light on our palates. “Is that octopus?” we asked. Brie the bartender said no, but they do offer it. It’s one of Nathalie’s favorites. All dumplings, pot stickers, and spring rolls are made in-house.
Among the noodles & rice dishes, the Crispy Pork Chop Rice is the bestseller. My favorite is Ahi Tuna Poke over Crispy Jasmine Rice Tots. The tots are available by themselves with sauces, if you prefer. Tasting the Beef Noodle Soup, Patti reminisced about the time her daughter and she drove home from Jacksonville in a bad storm, arriving in Fernandina cold, wet, and hungry. They went to Wicked Bao, the only place open, where Nathalie served them her beef noodle soup – how the beef and cinnamon stick warmed them that day!
So, what’s a bao? Rhyming with how, bao are Chinese steamed bread rolls with vegetable or meat fillings. They are as varied as the regions of China. Nathalie’s bao are Taiwan-style open-faced dumplings. Find your favorite(s) by trying all of them, with exciting flavors from Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Japan, and Singapore.
Wicked Bao is a great bar, too. Sapporo beer is on tap, while Lucky Buddha, Tsingtao, Singha, and Tiger are bottled beers. We chose sake, but it was not an easy choice. Pineapple-basil sake sangria complemented all of the bold flavors. The fall sake sangria will be mango-tamarind. Best was Moonstone Asian Pear Sake—bright, dry, and crisp, with ripe pear notes. Patti and I are eager to try mango-tamarind sake sangria with a Moonstone on the side!
When grown children are in town, this is where they want to go first. They and we remember good times at Wicked Bao. Wicked Bao is located at 232 N. 2nd Street.