As we entered, the distressed-wood bar that extended from the front door along a hallway into the interior had every seat taken, and most of the stool-sitters were gobbling plates of food. Next came the hostess’s station, and she reported a 45-minute wait for a table in the dining room, which was considerably warmer and more convivial, with a big open kitchen on one side. We ended up waiting 10 minutes to sit at the bar, where cold blasts of air from an unprotected door encouraged diners to eat fast and scamper.
Open only a few days, Bricolage is the project of San Franciscans Edward and Lien Lin, who worked at the Slanted Door, a well-regarded Vietnamese restaurant founded by chef Charles Phan in 1995. It started out in the Mission and ended up in the Embarcadero, with such signature dishes as shaking beef, wood-oven-roasted clams with Thai basil, cellophane crab noodles, and chicken with caramel sauce. Chef at Bricolage is Lien Lin, who was born in Mong Cai, a city on northern Vietnam’s Chinese border, though she moved to Hong Kong at the age of five, according to a conversation my Vietnamese dining companion had with her.
The food at Bricolage is less ambitious than that of the Slanted Door (at least at this point, an expanded menu is sure to follow), but much of it is still good. "This is all basically street food," my friend noted as she ran her eye over the nine appetizers (priced $9 to $14), as opposed to only four main courses ($16 to $27). Among the starters is a green papaya salad of the type more often found in Thai restaurants, though common enough in the southern reaches of Vietnam. It was delicious, with just a dash of fish sauce and a strong citrus flavor. Good, too, was a banh xeo crepe — a crisp yellow wrapper folded over bean sprouts, shrimp, and pork, and furnished with a zippy fish-sauce-and-vinegar dip. "A woman used to squat outside my grandparents’ house in Hanoi making these," my friend noted, "though the type made in the cities are much smaller than these big country-style examples."
We also enjoyed "crispy imperial rolls," which were like the usual deep-fried spring rolls only bigger and with a thicker skin, though they came with the same pristine lettuce and mint for wrapping that the crepe had. Unfortunately, the two entrees we sampled were not as exciting as the apps. The banh canh, a bowl of puffy rice noodles, pickled vegetables, tempeh, bean sprouts, and toasted rice powder in coconut milk, was too dry and the noodles overcooked — on the other hand, who expects perfection when the kitchen is slammed soon after opening night? The shaking beef — perhaps the most famous dish at the Slanted Door — is here called "unshaking beef": a nice piece of expertly grilled flank steak, served with a scatter of caramelized cocktail onions and a lime dipping sauce that was perhaps too acidic. Our biggest complaint, though, was that no starch accompanied it, nor was any offered among the sides. Dessert was a bowl of tapioca pudding.
I’m very excited to try this place after a couple of months with the full menu in place, but at the moment it can’t quite live up to its hype. 162 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-230-1835.