Boise's Yen Ching Opens Bei Lounge, an Upscale Spot for Asian Bites and Cocktails 

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Lex Nelson

Still dressed in his pressed suit after a day of working as a lawyer, Yen Ching co-owner Jeremy Chou reached for a bulgogi street taco. Loaded down with tender Korean barbeque beef, onions, carrots, daikon radish, sesame seeds and cilantro and drizzled with sriracha mayo, it wasn’t exactly a suit-friendly dish, but Chou added a scoop of kimchi and dove in anyway.

click to enlarge The bulgogi street tacos are a favorite on the Bei Lounge menu. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The bulgogi street tacos are a favorite on the Bei Lounge menu.

“It’s an acquired taste,” he said of the kimchi, “but if you’re Korean, you have it for breakfast.” When it comes to the beef, he added, “It’s pretty authentic with the marinade they use. The sweetness is really coming from the fruit—there’s pear and stuff in there. For a traditional bulgogi marinade, you have soy, some sugar, sesame oil, garlic, tons of onions, and really you’ve got to stick a mashed pear in there.”

The tacos are Chou’s favorite dish on the menu at Bei Lounge, which opened May 18 in what was once Yen Ching Bakery. The space, which had sat unused for eight years, has been transformed under the careful eye of local designer Mindy Luck into a high-end spot for happy hour, small Asian share plates and appetizers, with bold turquoise walls and light fixtures that dangle like pale flowers. Bei (pronounced “bay”) shares both ownership and a kitchen with Yen Ching, but the menu is very different, with only one common dish between the two restaurants. Bei branches off from Yen Ching’s Chinese base with offerings from other Asian traditions, including Korean, Vietnamese and Thai. Chou said that the vibe and food on offer, combined with a drink menu that leans heavily on just-pressed fruit juices and other fresh ingredients, is part of Yen Ching’s bid to stay relevant in Boise’s dining scene more than three decades after opening on Ninth Street.

click to enlarge LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson

“If we’re going to be around for another 30-plus years, we have to kind of grow as Boise grows, and tastes are changing, people are changing, so it’s really incumbent on us to kind of adapt to those changes,” said Chou, whose family has owned the restaurant since the beginning.

click to enlarge The fried seafood rolls are the only menu item shared by Bei Lounge and Yen Ching. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The fried seafood rolls are the only menu item shared by Bei Lounge and Yen Ching.

Bei Lounge is already pulling in a more upscale crowd than its long-lived neighbor, including pairs of well-dressed office workers and groups stopping on their way to or from fine dining spots on Eighth Street. Used to Boise’s burger-and-fry-heavy restaurant scene, what many of them may not realized is that Bei really serves the Asian version of pub fare—albeit in a classy setting.

“That’s pretty much what we make at home. It’s comfort food,” said Chou, gesturing to Bei’s menu of sauteed shrimp (meant to be eaten as finger food), fried seafood rolls, ramen and bibim bap, adding that the latter is a surefire cure for a hangover.

Still, attention to detail puts those dishes on a higher plane than most pub food. The ramen broth, for example, is simmered all day in the traditional style. For Chou, who is of Chinese descent and was born in South Korea, getting those things right is a matter of family pride, and there are quite a few personal touches on the Bei Lounge menu, from Chou’s favorites like the tacos to cocktails like Pipal’s Gin Juice (a tart, refreshing drink made with Broker’s gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice, cucumbers and soda water), which is named for an old friend. It joins other house specialties on a drink menu that includes everything from local wine and beer to drinks with Asian roots like the Matcha Gin, Lychee Martini and sake sold by the bottle.

click to enlarge The Matcha Gin is sweet and refreshing, made with gin, matcha, agave, lime juice and mint. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The Matcha Gin is sweet and refreshing, made with gin, matcha, agave, lime juice and mint.

With a closing time of 10 p.m. and prices ranging from $7-$15 for food and $9-$14 for cocktails, Bei Lounge will never join Boise’s rowdy late-night bar scene. That doesn’t bother Chou, who said he hopes it becomes a happy hour destination instead.

“Every lawyer’s dream is to open a bar,” he joked.

Happy hour runs 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 3-6 p.m. Saturday, and includes offerings like $4 draft beers, $4.50 well drinks and $6 house wines. The restaurant itself is open from 4-10 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 3-10 p.m. Saturday. It’s closed on Sunday.

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