112 Harrison Place, Bushwick
Your first instinct might be to order a beer, but that’d be a mistake. With cool aqua walls, a quiet buzz of fans (which did little to disguise the sticky June heat), and a soft-spoken hostess in a loose tangerine dress, the chic-yet-homey Falansai seemed like a calming oasis on an industrial street—until a boisterous sommelier broke the spell with a hard-sell on wine pairings that we were afraid to turn down. Thank goodness we let her work her magic.
One sip into the crisp, fresh Greek white she had expertly paired with the sweetly acidic papaya salad, and we saw her for what she really was: a sparkling fairy godmother, whose pours were like waves of a wand that brought out the flavors of every bite, whose poetic introductions turned our meal into a miniature wine course. As she spoke excitedly about the Greek grapes that were grown in baskets near the sea, we tasted the saline minerality of saltwater in each sip. She instructed us to sample an earthy, spicy-but-not-sweet Spanish Mencia before our first bite of the wok-sautéed cubes of filet mignon in the “shaking beef” so that we could fully appreciate the pairing before dipping the beef into the accompanying lime juice with salt and pepper. The fresh citrus juice wiped out the delicate flavor of the wine, but both the sauce and the Mencia brought out the nuanced flavors of the meat. (Our wine guru said that she’s training the whole staff on the wine program, but if you appreciate a passionate description of each pour—an experience on a par with far more lavish establishments—look for her at Falansai on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.)
That said, chef Henry Trieu’s Vietnamese homecooking shines with or without wine. His addictive “Dad’s shrimp rolls” encased a comforting combo of shrimp, jicama and shiitakes in a deep-fried tofu paper wrap. The fragrant and steamy clay pot of split catfish fillets perfectly balanced the funkiness of fish sauce with a subtly sweet, richly savory caramel sauce. And the name “eggplants sautéed” gives little warning of the explosion of coconut, curry and lemongrass flavors in this vegetable dish—a delicious indication that the many vegetarian options here are given the same care as the meatier offerings. (Most of the entrees are priced around $16.) With flavors as bold as Pok Pok’s and a homey environment akin to Ditmas Park’s beloved Filipino spot the Purple Yam, Falansai seems destined to become a borough-wide favorite. Check it out soon and dress for the heat—the space wasn’t air-conditioned when we visited, but we convinced ourselves that Vietnamese food tastes better in a sauna than an unseasonably cool room.
Photo Courtesy Falansai