Bún Chả Hà Nội
Even if you may be uncertain of the pronunciation of menu items, their actual description is sure to draw attention.
Duck breast with baby arugula, red onion, ginger vinaigrette, fried shallot and Thai chili.
Charred pork patties, grilled pork, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, mint, basil, perilla leaf, shaved papaya and carrot with dipping sauce.
Beef short rib, potato, carrot, lemongrass, star anise and cinnamon.
Yes, the offerings at Ba Sa, Bainbridge Island’s imminent new eatery, slated to open Wednesday, Sept. 4 in the former home of Cafe Nola (101 Winslow Way East), are very much like their creators Trinh and Thai Nguyen: a bold new take on the traditional.
Ba Sa will serve modern Vietnamese food inspired by Southeast Asian cuisine, using French techniques and showcasing the abundance of local product found in the Pacific Northwest. Second-generation chefs and restaurateurs, siblings Trinh and Thai said they are excited to share favorite dishes from their homeland and childhood reimagined with local ingredients and modern techniques, the tasty reflection of a lifetime of experience.
They were first introduced to cooking and the harsh realities of the industry at Pho T&N, the popular Poulsbo Vietnamese hotspot their parents opened in 2005.
Thai ultimately trained at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, and spent a student internship honing his skills at Restaurant Daniel before returning home to help run Pho T&N when their parents retired last year.
Trinh, Thai’s older sister, a mostly self-taught cook, spent a lot of time in the kitchen mastering recipes and observing her mother, but her own expertise is in the front of the house and has been since she was suddenly put in charge of the family’s budding new business while still just a teenager.
“I was 19, I was getting ready to go to school, I had all my college ready to go and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t have to babysit my brother and sisters anymore!’” Trinh recalled. “My older brother was in the Marines at the time, so he escaped and it all fell to me. I was finally ready to fly off and then two weeks before [school] starts my parents said, ‘We’re opening a restaurant, you need to cancel school. [We] need help for about a year and then after that you can go and do your thing because your brother will be back from the military and he’ll take over.’
“So they literally gave me two weeks to take over the restaurant in Poulsbo,” she said. “While they took over the kitchen I took over all the business aspects — the contracts, the signage, everything — in two weeks.”
Pho T&N remains a beloved spot in Poulsbo, but in keeping with customer preferences and her parents’ plan, Trinh said it’s offerings are traditional, recognizable Vietnamese staples.
Ba Sa — named for a type of catfish featured in a favorite dish the siblings’ mother often made back in Vietnam — will boast a whole new breed of fare, one that promises to be ever-evolving.
“What we want to be able to do is really showcase what we can do outside of the structure of Vietnamese food,” Trinh said. “Right now, as you see on the website, it’s a pretty standard preliminary Vietnamese menu, but none of that will stay. I think that we want to do a soft transition from what the other restaurant will be to what this restaurant will be, incorporating the local source ingredients.
“We just want to cook you really wonderful dishes based on what’s available.”
When Ba Sa opens, Trinh will again run the front of the house and Thai will handle the day-to-day chef duties. Whereas some siblings may see the idea of working together every day as a fate worse than death, Trinh said she’s looking forward to the chance.
After all, it’s nothing she hasn’t done before.
“I’ve worked with both my parents and all my siblings, at one point all together,” she said. “Do we love each other that much to be able to endure all that pain? I don’t know. Honestly, I think I’m just as human as you are. I get into fights with [Thai] and my other siblings. I get into debates with my parents. But at the end of the day we have each other’s best interest at heart. We clearly have many, many conversations — we have arguments and then we have conversations around that.”
The 2,300-square-foot space will offer seating for 54 in the dining room, eight seats at the bar, with a bird’s-eye view into the open kitchen, and a seasonal patio with 22 seats.
The simple and modern design will reportedly feature white walls with black trim, light wood tables and shelves, metal accents, subway tiles, and stainless steel finishes in the kitchen.
Already Trinh said people have been stopping by to inquire about making reservations.
She is as eager as any would-be customer to open the doors.
“I love the cooking and the running of the restaurant a lot more than I love construction,” Trinh laughed. “I could do this every day. Right now, for the last few months, I’ve been working 16 or 18 hours a day. I go to sleep thinking about it, I wake up thinking about it, but it feels good. It doesn’t feel like work.”
To learn more about the menu, specials and hours, visit www.basabainbridge island.com.