Washingtonians craving bánh mì sandwiches, bowls of pho, and bubble tea know to visit the Eden Center in Falls Church, but starting today, there’s a new—and decidedly modern—Vietnamese option: Ba Bay in the former Locanda space on Capitol Hill.
It’s the brainchild of Vietnamese cousins Khoa and Denise Nguyen, contestants on the short-lived Chopping Block reality-TV show. Their idea shifted from street food to something more refined when they hired former Sonoma chef Nick Sharpe to execute the menu. Khoa was most recently a manager at Vidalia, where he met Sharpe, a one-time cook there. To prepare for the restaurant’s opening, Khoa, a Culinary Institute of America grad, traveled to his native Saigon (he left when he was 11). He then took Sharpe to a Nguyen home in Virginia to learn the family’s recipes.
For more pictures of Ba Bay, click here.
Together, they came up with an innovative menu that maintains traditional flavors and textures while playing to the American palate. For example, in the shaky beef entrée, marinated tenderloin takes the place of the traditional rump steak, and it’s cooked sous vide before being seared in a wok. Instead of the customary watercress-salad accompaniment, the beef is paired with house-pickled onions and watercress purée. Other twists on Vietnamese favorites include sugar-cane shrimp cloaked in fatback, cellophane noodles tossed with Maryland crab, and a caramel-chicken clay pot adorned with fresh oysters. All the dishes were pre-approved by Nguyen’s grandmother, for whom the restaurant is named.
While the menu contains some flourishes, the restaurant’s interior has a simpler aesthetic. Brown-leather-and-canvas banquettes line the walls, and spherical bamboo lanterns illuminate bare pale-green walls.
“We want the focus to be on the food,” Nguyen said. “The room glows, but the food is the main event.”
Ba Bay. 633 Pennsylvania Avenue, Southeast; 202-547-1787; babaydc.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Shareable small plates
Pork loaf, Maggi dipping sauce $5
Trotter terrine, kohlrabi slaw $6
House pâté, pear mustard $6
Purple-cabbage salad, peanuts, herbs, soy vinaigrette $7
Meatballs, pork broth, shrimp crackers $8
Autumn roll, egg, jicama, Chinese sausage, peanut-hoisin $9
Shrimp on sugar cane, fatback, pickles, herbs $11
Grilled oysters, scallion, soy $11
Squid, lemongrass lamb sausage, mung beans, sesame cracker $11
Chili-glazed wings, scallion $12
Spicy pork-shrimp broth, thick rice noodles, Thai basil, pork loin and shank $14
Pho, rice noodles, ribeye, tendon, tripe, herbs $15
Pork belly, clams, Thai basil, Thai-chili broth $15
Cellophane noodles, Maryland crab, padron peppers $16
Steamed chicken, cabbage salad, onions, herbs, fish-sauce vinaigrette $16
Turmeric skate, braised fennel, turmeric-dill broth $17
Chicken, oysters, red perilla, caramel sauce $18
Tuong ot marinated pork chop, pickled carrots and bean sprouts $18
Short ribs, hoisin, scallion, peanuts $19
Rice congee, almond-milk-poached rockfish, fermented black bean, cilantro $19
Lamb, madras curry, lemongrass, fingerling potatoes, tomato, star anise $20
Shaky beef, marinated onions, black pepper, watercress purée $20
Bok choy, oyster sauce, crispy shallots $4
Carrots, fish sauce, padron peppers, lime $5
Brussels sprouts, sweet chili butter $5
Kabocha squash, coconut milk $5
Seasonal popsicles $4
Banana cake, curried chocolate, peanut brittle $7
Coffee pudding, condensed-milk ice cream, Vietnamese churro $7
Avocado milkshake, coconut caramel, bay cookie $8
Cocktails (all $12)
Saigon Mule: vodka, house ginger ale, lime
633: Brugal rum, St. Germain, cilantro, milk punch
B&B: brandy, cointreau, Dolin Rouge, absinthe
Bubble Tea Punch: rum, brandy, green tea, basil bubbles
Lloyd’s Libation: cava, cinnamon/raspberry sugar cube, twist
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