The bright, balanced flavors of Vietnamese cooking are made for summertime, and tasting menus are made for people who are still getting used to ordering at restaurants again. Which is why the Dac Biet (which translates to “special”) chef’s tasting menu (with wine pairings, if you can swing it) at Falansai in Bushwick may be the meal you didn’t realize you’ve been waiting for.
Last year, Henry Trieu, Falansai’s chef-owner of seven years, passed the reigns to Eric Tran, a Chicago-born chef with Vietnamese-Mexican ancestry, who’d just spent two years in the kitchen of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, chef Dan Barber’s two-Michelin-star restaurant in the Hudson Valley.
Like anyone opening a restaurant in November 2020, Tran has already been through a pandemic-induced trial-by-fire. This may explain why he’s so confident with big flavors, balancing fresh herbs with fermented fish sauce, squirts of citrus shining against searing chiles. Thanks to his background at Blue Hill, an O.G. farm-to-table spot that’s known for its epic tasting menus, he gives Vietnamese fare the locavore treatment, bringing unapologetically bold flavors to the freshest food available.
Falansai is located a block from the Morgan Avenue stop on the L, and the Technicolor murals that glow along the industrial buildings of Harrison Place seem to carry into Falansai’s backyard. A giant blue betta fish painted on the restaurant’s back wall watches over a large, airy patio with tall, potted parlor palms and a concrete koi pond under a tall, peaked-glass roof. I slid into a table beside one of my best friends as a Cremant de Loire, an elegantly tart, sparkling French wine, was poured into our glasses. The whole scene felt like a wish come true.
The Cremant was paired with striped bass tartar. The fish, fresh from the Long Island Sound, sat atop a creamy avocado mash, with milky cashew granita, salty, crunchy crushed cashews, and paper-thin slices of hot peppers, sealing the cooling dish with a kiss of heat. My friend took one bite and said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” and she was right. In that moment, on a humid corner in Bushwick, it was impossible to imagine anything more delicious or anywhere we’d rather be.
Though the tasting menu didn’t involve any pho or banh mi—the most typical dishes at a Brooklyn Vietnamese spot —the second course took traditional egg rolls to a higher plane. Falansai’s version, titled “Dad’s Egg Rolls,” tucked mushrooms, Berkshire pork, and vermicelli into crisp shells, which were meant to be wrapped in fresh shiso and romaine leaves, garnished with pickled vegetables, and dipped in a trio of sauces that I’m still dreaming about. One was the classic sweet-hot-acidic nuoc cham, that clear sauce with tiny bits of red chiles that you might recognize from your favorite banh mi joint. The second was a gingery hot sauce, lending a deeply flavorful blaze to everything it touched. The third was a fermented, Serrano-laced green sauce—acidic, sour, and set to awaken all the other flavors. The whole affair was paired with a steel-aged Chardonnay, which expressed the softness of the grape without the buttery quality Chardonnay can get from oak barrels. This may have ruined me for all other egg rolls. (Just kidding—I could never be ruined for egg rolls, but I don’t expect to find any better than these.)
Next, a plate of asparagus, blanched to verdant green, felt like it could have been delivered straight from the kitchen of Blue Hill. The vegetable’s crisp-tender freshness balanced the richness of its companion plate—skewered sausages, made with lamb, Berkshire pork, and lemongrass, served alongside a golden-yolked pickled egg and bright-tasting pickled slaw. The course was paired with a funky orange wine, which stood up to the big, bold flavors of the dishes it accompanied.
Our fourth savory course paired a juicy chilled red with an even juicier half-chicken, blackened with char marks and served in a green curry with thin-sliced, fresh radish and singed broccoli. The green curry itself was delicious enough that—especially after four glasses of wine—one might fantasize about rubbing one’s face in it, or at least eating it straight-up, with a spoon.
At this point, chef Tran stopped by the table and mentioned that the curry itself is vegan, quietly expressing his pride in this plant-based flavor party. Though Tran takes nose-to-tail eating seriously, featuring confit duck necks as an appetizer and tossing Vietnamese mortadella into his fried rice, his vegetarian options are definitely not an afterthought. On the à la carte menu, the green curry is a vegan dish, offered with soft tofu, shiitakes, and seasonal greenmarket finds in place of the chicken.
Falansai’s tasting menu was extremely well portioned, leaving us full but not uncomfortably so. Diners who talked less and ate more might’ve finished every bite, but on this visit, I took home enough chicken and sauces to make an insanely delicious lunch the next day. If we’d been ordering off the menu, we probably wouldn’t have considered dessert, but a cup of sticky rice, infused with the sweetness of coconut milk and topped with crushed cashews, tasted like a little piece of heaven, and made for the perfect light finish.
Falansai is located at 112 Harrison Pl., Bushwick; (718) 381-0980. Hours: Wednesday/Thursday (5:30pm-10pm), Friday/Saturday (5:30pm-11pm), Sunday (2pm-9pm).
Our meals were comped in exchange for a Brooklyn Based Instagram feature. We felt that this incredible meal warranted a full review, too.