A San Francisco Treat: Bricolage

02/25/2015 9:54 AM |
Photo by Jane Bruce

162 5th Ave., Park Slope


When Charles Phan first opened San Francisco’s Slanted Door in 1995, his goal was to expose the city to the sweet-sour-salty-spicy wonders of Vietnamese food, popularizing dishes like clay pot catfish and shaking beef by making them with quality, California-approved ingredients, such as farm-grown vegetables, Niman Ranch meat, and Dungeness crab. His mission proved wildly successful: Not only did he increase local interest in Vietnamese fare tenfold, but he made Slanted Door one of the most iconic, consistently profitable restaurants in the United States.

So it’s unsurprising that Phan’s executive sous chef Lien Lin, together with husband Edward (who ran the restaurant’s casual, street food spinoff), would want to capitalize on Slanted Door’s considerable caché by opening a “modern Vietnamese gastropub” in Park Slope called Bricolage—French for “a construction or creation from a diverse range of available things.” And indeed, the local/seasonal concept seems custom made for Brooklyn, as does the decor (salvaged wood, dusty books, a hodgepodge of antique chandeliers), whiskey-forward cocktails in long-stemmed coupes (courtesy of Adam Wilson, formerly of the San Francisco hotspot, Beretta), Sriracha-glazed chicken wings, and even a papaya salad alternative, which manages to incorporate both beets and kale.

But while it’s easy to ooze enthusiasm over summer rolls at institutions like Slanted Door, Brooklyn’s own understanding of Vietnamese food has long evolved past such entry-level items, making diners more apt to seek out regional specialties at no-frills spots, such as the Bon bo Hue (spicy beef soup) at Thanh Da, or Chao Tom (barbecued shrimp paste on sugar cane sticks) at Nha Trang. And on the refined end of the spectrum, the borough’s not hurting for farm-to-table Southeast Asian fare either, with chefs such as Nightingale 9’s Rob Newton justifying higher prices with unimpeachable sourcing without pandering to mass-market tastes.

As a result, Bricolage’s current, abbreviated menu, which tips its hat to many of the original staple items at Slanted Door, seems a decade or so out of date. Not that much of it isn’t totally tasty; Crispy imperial rolls stuffed with pork, shrimp, and mushrooms, wrapped with lettuce and mint and dipped in Nuoc Cham; classic crispy crepe called Banh Xeo (similarly ensconced in lettuce, it’s essentially the spring roll’s clumsier cousin); “Unshaking” Beef, which swaps Phan’s famous filet for flank and the wok for the grill; and our personal favorite, the Banh Canh, floppy, udon-esque noodles, flavored with coconut milk, dusted with toasted rice powder, and tossed with snips of preserved turnip, pressed tofu, fresh cucumber, crunchy bean sprouts and herbs.

None of it is likely to make true Vietnamese food enthusiasts abandon their Sunset Park posts, but perhaps it was a canny, calculated move to open Bricolage in Park Slope, where toddlers are regularly weaned on Franny’s clam pizza, Talde’s pretzel potstickers, and Blue Ribbon’s pristine sushi. Because just as Slanted Door gently introduced 90s-era San Franciscans to shrimp paste and fish sauce, perhaps Bricolage will do the same for Fifth Avenue youth, offering edible training wheels in the form of pork ribs, chicken wings, and dainty slabs of smoky, scallion-garnished beef.

One Comment

  • It’s unfair and inaccurate to state that the Slanted Door introduced 1990s San Francisco to Vietnamese food. While they were the first upscale Vietnamese restaurant in SF (not counting Betelnut, which had some Vietnamese-inspired dishes but was more “Pan-Asian”), the classic, cheap Vietnamese staples concentrated in the Tenderloin were popular with locals long beforehand, Tu Lan being the classic example. Unfortunately, with Tu Lan, you had to suspend your disbelief about the cleanliness of the kitchen, but the food was amazing.