Friends of ours who live in Bushwick looked east down a deserted-looking block of Harrison and said, “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for ten years, and I still can’t believe there’s a restaurant down there.” Warehouses are quickly converting to lofts near the Morgan L stop, especially around still-hot Roberta’s and the cluster of restaurants that has grown up around it, but certain corners remain untouched, even if they won’t be that way for long.
And on the stretch of street down which our friends were gazing sits pioneering eatery Falansai, a Vietnamese joint more in the vein of San Francisco’s prolific Slanted Door (where Falansai owner Henry Trieu spent time on the line) than the dingy noodle shops in Chinatown. Inking a slightly out-there lease allowed Trieu to build a spot large enough to hold groups, and two days after opening, a modest crowd convened under the mint-green walls and antique lanterns, the sounds of Edith Piaf infusing the space with a slow, mellow vibe.
Slanted Door showed San Francisco that Vietnamese cooking is more than making pho, and Falansai aims to do the same, exploring other parts of that country’s delicious culinary canon and highlighting the marriage of Chinese and French flavors and techniques that characterizes the heritage of the food. (Trieu also calls out that connection personally with the restaurant’s name: Falansai is how his Chinese father pronounced “Francais” when he told tales of his years in Vietnam.)
The menu is divided into three sections — starters, small and main — and covers familiar classics like spring rolls and green papaya salad in addition to items you won’t find at pho shops, like braised pork belly with whole eggs and lamb curry. While the spot has a beautiful bar that faces a pair of oblong mirrors, you won’t find cocktails on the menu. Rather, Falansai offers a concise list of the types of wines that pair best with this kind of food (mostly white with good acid, like riesling and gruner veltliner) as well as a handful of beers, some from Vietnam, others local and still others from big breweries like Stella and Heineken.
Falansai offers a selection of rolls, some fresh and some fried, stuffed with pork, vegetables or shrimp and served with traditional accoutrements like, in the case of the fried rolls, mint and lettuce. After those first bites, dishes come out as they’re ready rather than all at once, and everything is meant to be shared.
Green beans are blistered in a wok and tossed with mushrooms and a hit of spicy chilies.
Tender shaking beef is sauteed simply with an acidic blast of lime and served with a side of salt and pepper dipping sauce. Braised pork belly and whole quail eggs come quivering in a sauce that mixes ginger, coconut water and soy. And clay pot catfish, an iteration of a dish that’s been on the Slanted Door menu for years, is surprisingly delicate broth redolent of caramel swimming with supple hunks of white fish. Entrees come with a side of rice.
Falansai offers just three dessert options, including this triple-layer panna cotta, with marries the sweetness of vanilla to the slightly tart mango. Other options include a chocolate mousse layer cake with lemongrass sauce and a Keifer lime pie.
And of course, the restaurant serves Vietnamese coffee the traditional way, each cup brewed table-side over sweetened condensed milk.