If only all Craigslist meetings went this well. In between the missed connections and illicit massage therapists, Brooklyn residents Meir Gal and Jed Freedlander had posted a listing to the classified ads site looking for help running a Vietnamese kitchen. The original intention was to open a bánh mì shop, but after meeting with chefs Lien and Edward Lin — whose résumés include years working alongside West Coast and Vietnamese culinary icon Charles Phan at the Slanted Door — the quartet decided to take the plunge and open a full-fledged restaurant. The result is Bricolage (162 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-230-1835), an ambitiously priced modern Vietnamese restaurant that embraces its Park Slope digs.
Covered in exposed brick and reclaimed wood, the restaurant’s name references the recovered materials used to furnish the space (designed by Gal, an artist and screenwriter). It could also refer to the Lins’ menu, which currently plays with classic Vietnamese recipes, updating and stretching concepts into modernized compositions — taking elements from the old and the new in an effort to create something contemporary. That effort mostly translates to a melding of Brooklyn greenmarket zeal and traditional Vietnamese flavors. It’s not new territory (see: Falansai, run by another Slanted Door alum, and Nightingale 9, a modern Vietnamese restaurant in Carroll Gardens), but Bricolage’s prices are slightly higher than Brooklyn’s other outlets for Viet-Nouveau cuisine, with $8 to $14 appetizers and main courses in the low to mid-$20s.
With its reliance on fresh vegetables and herbs, citrus, and other punchy flavors, vegetarian recipes lend themselves to Vietnamese interpretation, and Bricolage takes care to offer meat-free versions of two popular starters — rice-paper-wrapped summer rolls and bánh xèo, thin and crispy crêpes named for the sound their batter makes as they fry. Lien Lin was the Slanted Door’s executive sous chef, but she also holds degrees in microbiology and computer science, and it’s clear that she’s applied the same focus and drive to her cooking career. While the standard version of the thin rice-flour pancake comes stuffed with a mixture of pork and shrimp, Lin substitutes maitake and king oyster mushrooms for a hearty, healthier filling. Summer rolls are less exciting, simply omitting the non-vegetarian version’s sculpture-like shrimp and batons of pork belly. Thick rice noodles swirl in coconut milk broth for a vegetarian take on bánh canh, a rich soup spiked with tofu and pickles.
Carnivores won’t leave dissatisfied, not when Bricolage’s lemongrass-marinated pork chop is cooked this well. Left un-pounded, the hefty, thickly sliced cut sings with equal parts piggy unctuousness and grill-kissed char. It might be considered the restaurant’s signature dish if one hadn’t already been chosen for us. That would be the “unshaking beef,” which, although based on Charles Phan’s legendary upscale version of “shaking beef,” takes liberty with the wok-seared filet mignon salad made famous in San Francisco. Flank steak subs in for filet, simply grilled and sliced bistro-style. Both are seared perfectly, but the beef and pork come with side salads and little else — a letdown both for our stomachs and when the bill arrived.
Desserts are limited to two options, both with their merits, and each with a clever take on conventional tastes. Coconut-tapioca pudding swims in five-spice ginger syrup topped with diced mango, but it hits the same gelatinous high notes as the mango sticky rice it’s based on. Further afield from its forebear is a molten chocolate cake baked with a fudgy core of Mycella, a Danish blue cheese similar to gorgonzola. It straddles the line between cheese plate and sweet dessert course, with a smear of quince paste to tie the flavors together. It’s also the more compelling of the duo. There’s even a Vietnamese coffee dessert cocktail available if you’d prefer to end the evening with a nightcap.
With serious kitchen talent, Bricolage might consider pushing the envelope just a bit (in the direction of that chocolate cake, perhaps). It’s not that dishes like “Sriracha butter chicken wings” aren’t great — their compositions make sense. But the last thing Park Slope, or New York for that matter, needs is another beet salad (the one here comes with sesame-candied walnuts). Luckily, after only a month in business (and a very busy month, thanks to generous blog buzz), there’s still plenty of room for tweaking.
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