New York City’s rich Vietnamese dining scene has an exciting new entry in the form of Williamsburg restaurant Bolero. The 50-seat restaurant, located at 177 Bedford Avenue, between North 7th and North 8th streets, is helmed by Matt Le-Khac, an alum of the two Michelin-starred Blue Hill at Stone Barns and popular Lower East Side Vietnamese restaurant An Choi. Le-Khac will serve as the restaurant’s co-chef along with Jimmy Tran, who previously worked at three Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Benu.
Le-Khac says his new restaurant, which opened in early February, aims to be a casual restaurant that employs fine-dining standards, with a goal of showcasing Vietnamese food beyond “just pho and banh mi.” He employs less ubiquitous ingredients like betel leaf and Vietnamese coriander — many of which are grown on Le-Khac’s family farm in Pennsylvania — and hopes that diners will feel comfortable asking questions about ingredients they don’t recognize.
“It is an exciting time in the realm of Vietnamese food right now,” Le-Khac tells Eater, referencing top Vietnamese restaurants in the city like Greenpoint’s Di An Di and the East Village’s Hanoi House. “We are hopefully pushing Vietnamese food further and promoting Vietnamese specialties.”
That vision can be seen in dishes like a whole fried sea bass that’s a take on a common dish eaten along the Mekong river delta in Vietnam and made with elephant fish. At Bolero, it’s served with a thin rice paper called morning dew. Elsewhere, wagyu beef comes wrapped in betel leaf that’s marinated in lemongrass and fish sauce before it’s grilled to impart “smoky, citrusy,” notes to the beef, according to Le-Khac.
The seasonal menu largely features shareable plates, and there’s also a multi-course tasting menu priced at $55 per person. For now, the drinks are limited to non-alcoholic beverages like a honeydew drink with betel leaf and rice wine vinegar; a red tea creation with lemongrass and star anise-flavored honey; and a cold brew coffee drink with ginger and orgeat syrup. Le-Khac is hopeful that a liquor license approval for the restaurant will come through shortly.
The food and drinks are served from an open kitchen in a space that references Vietnam throughout, including wavy, tiled flooring that’s meant to mimic the flow of the Mekong river, some mosquito-net covered overhead lights, and Vietnamese tunes from the ’50s and ’60s that Le-Khac’s dad grew up listening to, he says.
In the spring, the chefs will debut a Vietnamese tea garden, which will showcase herbs like cilantro and betel leaf. The garden will also host tea ceremonies, something for diners as they wait to be seated.
Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue has seen a dramatic shift in the last decade, going from largely independent businesses to large box stores and chain restaurants like Sweetgreen, By Chloe, and the Meatball Shop all located either on or just off the street. Bolero, which is open daily from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., is an exciting addition to an otherwise largely staid dining strip.