When most people think of Vietnamese cuisine in New York City, many think of spots that focus on classic pho and bánh mì options. Chef Lien Lin at Bricolage, perched at the upper reaches of 5th Avenue in Brooklyn, is changing the game by offering an exuberant riff on the Vietnamese dining experience. Using her experience at renowned San Franciscan institution, The Slanted Door, along with being an ethnic Chinese who grew up in northern Vietnam, Lin combines the traditional with the whimsical, putting a uniquely personal spin on conventional Vietnamese fare. The diverse menu at this adventurous gastropub has influences from Chinese, French, and New American cuisines. In this episode of LUCKYINSIDER, we sit down with the chef who is bringing her version of modern Vietnamese cuisine to the East Coast:
LUCKYRICE: The word bricolage means “something constructed from a diverse range of available things” – how does this definition reflect the philosophy behind the restaurant and its menu?
Lien Lin: The design of our restaurant is constructed through re-used and re-purposed items. Our bar and part of our wall is lined with an old Brooklyn water tower wood, we have an old 100-year old barn door, and an old TV art piece as an homage to Nam June Paik, the father of video art. Our partner and restaurant designer, Miro Gal, and I spent all summer collecting books off stoops to build additional art pieces and we built our own dining tables out of old NY scaffolding.
As for the food, it is Vietnamese with a touch of Chinese influence, just like the food I grew up with being Chinese from Vietnam. We stay true to the flavors and techniques but use seasonal local ingredients. Bricolage allows me to take classic recipes and flavors and make them my own.
LUCKYRICE: Why did you settle on NYC – and specifically Park Slope – to launch your first restaurant?
Lien: We live in Boerum Hill and love the vibe. In parts of Brooklyn, the “Brooklyn” brand rings true. Brooklyn is diverse, progressive, adventurous, unpretentious, open, and its residents are always ready to try new experiences that may challenge more commonly-held assumptions. We chose Brooklyn because it is how we want to live, more connected with our neighbors and guests.
LUCKYRICE: How do you think your experience at The Slanted Door in San Francisco inspired your approach to the menu at Bricolage?
Lien: Charles Phan is a longtime friend and mentor who has elevated Vietnamese cuisine. My mission is to do the same on the East Coast: to demystify Vietnamese cuisine and introduce others to venture outside of the classic phò and bánh mì, using quality ingredients in a causal setting with attentive service and a very thoughtful wine and bar program.
LUCKYRICE: In your opinion, what is an underrated traditional Vietnamese dish?
Lien: Banh Tam Bi, a southern Vietnamese thick rice and tapioca noodle with shredded pork, pork skin, fresh herbs, pickled vegetables and coconut cream sauce. At Bricolage I make a vegetarian version with house made noodles, pressed tofu, tofu, salted turnip, house pickles and a touch of curry in the coconut sauce.
LUCKYRICE: What dishes do you recommend a first-time visitor order?
Lien: There are too many I’d want to recommend! Summer rolls with a spicy hoisin peanut sauce are a classic. Our bánh xèo is made with local fresh shrimp and is perfectly crispy. The Niman Ranch Pork Chop is marinated in lemongrass, garlic, chili, and Red Boat fish sauce and served with a refreshing baby arugula, apple, and fennel salad. Our seasonal vegetable cauliflower with house-preserved lemon and oyster sauce is also a must. The chocolate molten lava cake with mycelia blue cheese center, quince jam, and candied almonds, though not Asian at all, is one of my favorites!
LUCKYRICE: Do you have a favorite late night snack?
Lien: Frozen dumplings – I have at least 100 in my freezer at all times! Well, that plus four pints of ice cream.