This week, I review Bar Bao, which is not the place to go for some of my favorite Vietnamese treats. Neither jiggly steamed banh beo, or messy, mayo-and-paté-slicked banh mi are to be found on the gussied-up menu. And the summer rolls, which I usually like no matter what, sound interesting (short rib summer rolls!) but turn out to be boring.
But complex, sophisticated Vietnamese flavors do lend themselves beautifully to refined, upscale cooking, and that’s where Bar Bao succeeds. As an added bonus, the sleekly designed place looks much more expensive than it is. You could order the pho with sweetbreads ($12) and the gingery iron pot chicken casserole ($16), and walk away happy, not broke.
Of course, if you go for the more spectacular stuff, it’ll set you back a bit more, but not obscenely so. The aromatic Mekong market clay pot sports chubby, head-on prawns and lovely fresh fish ($21). The grilled hanger steak ($25) is cooked perfectly, blackened on the outside and garnet on the inside, and is served with interactive accompaniments: Chopstick up a bit of steak, dip it in nuoc cham, dredge it in puffed black rice, and eat it with a bit of fresh basil.
The very best option is the daikon duck hash ($12). I am still daydreaming about this dish:
“A toss of chewy, fried daikon cubes, swabs of salty, shredded duck, and
bits of duck bacon are topped with a soft poached egg. Break the egg
and let the yolk spill out, rendering the whole mixture gooey and rich.
The cubes of daikon are crispy on the outside and have a starchy,
smooth chew, very similar to Chinese turnip cake or Singaporean carrot
Best dishes: Daikon duck hash (if you get one thing, let it be this), salt-and-pepper crispy sweetbreads, iron pot organic chicken casserole, hanger steak
Best avoided: Summer rolls, Berkshire pork belly