Sunday, July 17, 2011

down by ba bay

I can't imagine how different my life would be had ba bay not opened in my neighborhood. Well, I'd cook some more, sure, but I wouldn't have nearly as much fish sauce as I do now; nor would I have a go-to cheer-up spot a mere few blocks from home. And I'd certainly not have as many excellent happy-hour meet-ups on the Hill.

It's hard to believe they've only been there since November. They have refined and revised their menu over the months, to be sure, but it has only led to higher quality and spot-on consistency.

Now, with Khoa Nguyen leaving the front of house (sort of) to take the helm in the kitchen, along with the ever-excellent sous-chef Sara Siegel, the summer menu is veering toward slightly more traditional Vietnamese flavors, but still punched up with vibrant and innovative twists, local ingredients, and the finesse that comes of having highly-trained, passionate people in charge and on board.

I've been waiting for a lazy Sunday when I could toddle up for a late lunch ever since I saw cold vermicelli, grilled pork, green apples, sprouts, pickles, carrots, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette ($12) added to the brunch/lunch menu. (Well, no; first I begged and pleaded for this to join the dinner menu, but alas, I don't call the shots.) A friend and I made the trip today, and oh, am I glad, because this is one of the best interpretations of bun thit nuong I've ever had -- the apples, the pickled onions! Enough fresh herbs to make a whole salad! I want to tell everyone I know to run right over and get it, except I don't, because then there'll be more for me.

My friend and I were lucky enough to taste the new summer cocktail of watermelon juice, lime, and cachaça as well, despite our protestations that late afternoon work beckoned. This drink is wonderful, and probably deadly, because it doesn't taste a bit like it's got a boozy kick. When the front windows are open at the end of a swampy DC day, this will be the perfect thing to sip and watch the staffers traipse by.

If you aren't looking for alcoholic drinks, I can recommend the herbal hibiscus iced tea, which is a gorgeously shocking-pink libation with herbaceous aromatics that linger pleasantly on the palate. My friend said her fresh lemonade was not overly sweet, making it nicely refreshing on a hot day.

I also happen to think Ba Bay should open a little kiosk (think childhood lemonade stand) out front selling their vietnamese coffee milkshake, churro, cinnamon chantilly ($7) to go. You see people wandering down the street with their milkshakes from various places around this part of the hill, but this one, I'm convinced, puts all the others to shame. Oh, how I'd love one of those to sip on the walk home after an excursion to Eastern Market! 

The Barracks Row/Eastern Market/SE Penn Ave area is blossoming with restaurants and bars these days. As a neighborhood girl, I am so, so pleased to have this particular one around: young proprietors expertly infusing tradition with creativity, and getting better at it each day.

No comments: