A little bit of new and old

22 Jun

I recently had brunch at Ba Bay, a modern-Vietnamese restaurant in Capitol Hill. Today, Washington Post released a story on a change in positions at the restaurant: it’s head chef, Nick Sharpe, is leaving for a stint in California, while it’s owner, Khoa Nguyen will be shifting into the kitchen as chef. Since the menu will be overhauled, save for some select dishes, the food I was going to write about may not still be on the menu from now on.

Even if these changes weren’t happening, I plan to visit Ba Bay again, because I enjoyed my food on both occasions that I went. The first time around, with The Bf (and sans camera), I had a wonderful pork belly dish with saucy rice noodles that I loved. The belly was a little dry, though thick and definitely a little rich, with its crispy skin. The noodles were soft, but balanced with the crunch from a peanut and cilantro garnish, and salty from the thin fish sauce.

The second time around, I went with my good friend Lisa. Yes, we share the same name, somehow that hasn’t become as confusing as you think it would be. Full disclosure: she happens to be a friend of Nguyen’s, but all thoughts on this post are my own, not solicited (even though we got free dessert).

On this occasion, we shared their autumn rolls, which were perfectly crispy on the outside, and the vegetables tasted fresh on the inside. It was even better with the creamy peanut dipping sauce. (I love getting spring rolls at Vietnamese restaurants and stores just for that sauce).

I had pho for my main dish, and while I would’ve liked a more flavorful broth, the soup as a whole was hearty and chock-full of plenty of meat, vegetables and noodles. I always add a ton of hot sauce and hoisin sauce to my pho, wherever I get it, so that upped the flavor a bit.

Lisa tried their take on the traditional bånh mî, except she opted for fried egg (you can also get it “classic,” with pork belly, or with meatballs). I didn’t try it, but she raved about it, and I had heard good things about this banh mi before. So they must be doing something right with that dish.


Being that Lisa is a friend, Nguyen insisted on treating us to dessert, so we shared his choices of their strawberry-basil popsicle and their sesame cake. They were both fitting for the warmth of the day. The sesame flavor was subtle in the cake, which was very light and spongy, but the coconut flavor in the ice cream and caramel made up for the subtleties.

The popsicle was inventive and refreshing. It was best eaten with a little bit of everything: a part of the strawberry side, a part of the basil side, and some of the accompanying cream. The combination of fruit and herb flavors mixed nicely, and I enjoyed the crumble sprinkled on top for a bit of added crunch.

There were small parts to our meal that I would tweak, but overall, the dishes seemed to successfully balance a modern approach to traditional Vietnamese flavors. So I’m curious as to whether the food will stay this way, or shift toward a more modern or a more traditional direction, now that Nguyen is going to be in the kitchen. I’m eager to go back soon to see how these changes look and taste.

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2 Responses to “A little bit of new and old”

  1. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide June 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    Nice review. Those desserts do look amazing. Hopefully the new team will continue making great stuff.

  2. Sheridan June 26, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    Fried egg bånh mî? I’m in 🙂

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