If you walked pass this place, you?d not have guessed that there?s actually a restaurant behind its tiny hole-in-the-wall fa?ade. That?s because the kitchen is all you see when you come in the entrance. The ma?tre?d told me that you have to make reservations to dine here before 10pm, which we did luckily. Upon checking in, you are led through a little passageway next to the kitchen to what feels like someone?s big backyard garden with tables and chairs and birdcage lanterns hanging everywhere. It?s very cute, especially for a date and I really liked the casual atmosphere. Seems like it could be a fun outing with a small group of buddies too. But when you look around and notice that everyone dining at this Vietnamese secret outpost is non Asian except our table, you get a feeling that the food may not be as authentic as you?d like. To me as a rule of thumb, that?s okay as long as the food still tastes good or is somewhat inventive and unique.
We ordered 2 small plates and 2 big plates and a couple of beers from Vietnam (Saigon was the best, forget the ale). The Green Papaya Salad with steamed shrimp had a refreshing minty sweetness to it that was well balanced by the tartness of the lime dressing. The Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly appetizer had a tasty caramel pepper sauce to it though not quite crispy enough; yet this was the better dish of the night. The Claypot Fish Market dish was a bit too salty and disappointing. We barely finished half of it. Finally, the Shaking Beef with spicy cress, red onion, and mustard vinaigrette was just alright. I thought the portions (which was a good size) and price tag were similar to that at the new Momofuku Ma Peche, where I later dined at that same weekend.
At the end of the day, you realize that most of the time, unless the service is horrendous, it?s the company that really makes the dining experience even though the food is nothing to shout about. On the way out, we bumped into Mr. Bao himself at the narrow hallway where I barely muttered a shy ?Hi? with a half smile. In that split second in my head, I congratulated him on dominating the Bahn Mi Sandwich world, and told him how huge a Baoguette fan I was. And as an afterthought, I wanted to tell him to bring Pho back to Bia Garden?s menu and dominate that world too.
Pros: Good selection of Asian beer, Cute garden in the backyard
Cons: Dishes are hit or miss