More than seven years after opening its doors on the corner of Harrison Place and Porter Avenue, Bushwick Vietnamese restaurant Falansai permanently closed in September. Similar phrases have become commonplace over the last eight months of the coronavirus pandemic, but rarely are they followed by what comes next: The restaurant is set to reopen using the same name and space on Wednesday, but with a new owner and a revamped menu.
“I’m looking at this as Falansai 2.0,” says Eric Tran, a friend of former owner Henry Trieu and a chef who most recently worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. “We kept the name but it’s going to be clean slate, inside and out.”
Falansai is located at 112 Harrison Place, at Porter Avenue, a street corner that could be considered East Williamsburg by today’s measures, but that was solidly Bushwick when it opened in May 2013. Tran has outfitted the restaurant with a new color scheme and menu, one that moves away from what New York City might consider to be “traditional Vietnamese,” he says.
“There were not a lot of Vietnamese restaurants in New York City 10 years ago,” according to Tran. “Now a lot of younger Vietnamese are trying new things — mostly with banh mi and pho — but those two staples are just a small piece of what Vietnamese cuisine is.”
Shipping delays are just one of the growing pains of opening a new restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic, and like so many others, Falansai is moving forward despite still waiting on kitchen equipment to arrive. For that reason, Tran is opening with a slimmed down menu that has one of everything.
There’s the restaurant’s Dad’s fried rice — a nod to the Dad’s shrimp rolls of Trieu’s original restaurant — made from fluffy scrambled egg, Vietnamese-style mortadella, and Chinese sausage. Its only bowl of pho for now, likened on the menu to “chicken noodle soup,” heaps slabs of chicken over herbs, rice noodles, and shimmering chicken broth. Tran’s duck neck confit, a reinvention of the chicken wing, takes meat that’s been slow-cooked in its own fat and slathers it in a sweet-sour-spicy sauce.
Customers may notice that there’s no beef on the menu, and while many new Brooklyn restaurants are opting for meat-free menus, the decision here is mostly financial. Tran purchases all of the restaurant’s animals whole, which helps keep costs down at the restaurant, he says. (His most expensive dish, a meaty lemongrass pork skewer, costs $18.) With some of the restaurant’s refrigerators still on the way, there’s simply no room for a whole cow. Plus, he says it’s hard to get high-quality beef in small quantities without significantly increasing prices for customers.
As Tran settles into the new space, he will slowly introduce more dishes to the menu, including shrimp rice rolls, whole wheat bao — “the brown makes them look baked, but they’re soft and steamy,” he says — and hearty bowls of lamb pho.
From the start, Falansai was been a restaurant whose menu nods to multiple cultures. When former chef-owner Trieu opened the corner spot in May 2013, he named it for the way his father — a Chinese refugee who escaped to French-occupied Vietnam in the 1940’s — pronounced the word “français.” Falansai was born out of triple translation, a Chinese refugee uttering French that’s been transcribed to English, and its menu was just as complex.
“It was a quirky operation with lots of unusual dishes that couldn’t be found at other Vietnamese restaurants,” says Eater critic Robert Sietsema. It served a memorable “globe trotter” pho, into which customers could add a checklist of global ingredients, like mole poblano, Sichuan peanuts, and Vietnamese curry. More traditional but less common French-Vietnamese dishes could also be found there, like its clay pot catfish, a bowl of river fish that had been braised and caramelized in a deep, rich broth.
When Trieu closed Falansai in September, he wanted the next owner to open a Vietnamese restaurant in the same space, and along came Tran. The Vietnamese-Mexican chef was fresh off a two-year stint working at Blue Hill at Stone Barns when he signed the lease at the end of September. At first, he planned to just take over the space, but after weeks of “just coming to the space and hanging out with Henry,” Tran says he decided to carry on the legacy of its name, as well.
Falansai is now open for takeout and delivery from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays.