Every week An Nguyen Xuan posts the menu specials for the day on his restaurant’s blog. The catch: he only posts once a week and his restaurant, Bep, is only open on Mondays. Bep (which means kitchen in Vietnamese) functions for the rest of the week as a South Williamsburg eatery, Simple Café. Yet, when Monday rolls around An, who is Vietnamese and was raised in Paris, takes over to provide the neighborhood with staples of Vietnamese cuisine.
Like An himself, Vietnamese food draws influence from both Southeast Asia and France. The outcome of this mix of culture is reflected in the food, and classically in the bahn mi sandwich.
Bahn mi is made on a baguette with pate and mayonnaise courtesy of the French, and pickled carrot, daikon, cilantro, and meat courtesy of Vietnam. There seems to be a bahn mi craze sweeping the city right now, if not, the beginnings of one. I personally wouldn’t mind if this delicious sandwich became as ubiquitous in New York as falafel, or even pizza!
I tried both the barbeque and grilled pork bahn mi. Both were excellent. The grilled pork was juicy and soaked nicely into the baguette, and the barbeque was flavorful without being heavy. Both were well balanced in flavor avoiding the blandness and sogginess that is the sometimes the downfall of this type of sandwich.
Though it was a warm day, the Pho bo, or Tonkin beef noodle soup was light and fresh enough not to weigh one down in the heat. The beef was sliced thin enough that the heat from the broth was enough to cook it. With fresh sprouts, basil and culantro (a long leafy green not to be confused with cilantro), the delicate flavors were perfect for summer.
The mango salad was perhaps the most interesting dish, and my favorite of the day, and from An’s blog, http://beprestaurant.blogspot.com, I see it is on special a lot. The salad was made from shredded pork, mango, and red cabbage, and was garnished with shrimp and shrimp crackers. The surprise ingredient, and I never would have guessed, was banana blossom!
To wash it all down I had limeade, which was refreshing without being too sweet and had a surprise ingredient of its own. A dried plum was thrown in to lightly infuse the drink with salt, which brought the sour-salty-sweet flavors into equilibrium.
As I got up to pay for my meal at the counter, An himself asked me how it was. “Everything was really great,” I said, and An beamed. You could tell that this restaurant is his baby. “Too bad you aren’t open everyday,” I say handing him the money. He grinned and said, “Maybe one day!”
Until that day comes, this seems like the perfect nursery for a restaurant to try out classic dishes and new ideas.
BEP– 346 Bedford Ave at South Third: open Monday 11am-10pm.