Ba Bay Prepares To Open On Capitol Hill

One recent Friday afternoon, chef Nick Sharpe was feeding me pork in the kitchen at Capitol Hill's forthcoming Ba Bay. (Yes, I love this job.)

Much like at his last gig, head chef at Sonoma just a few blocks up the street, Sharpe is making charcuterie in house. Only this time, he's applying his training in European
and American cooking to an entirely different cuisine: Vietnamese.

That means the rustic, earthy headcheese is brightened with lime zest and chiles. And the Vietnamese pork loaf — much like mortadella — is intensified by fish sauce. The pieces I was sneaking off a plate mid-interview were delicious.

Later this week, cousins Denise and Khoa Nguyen are planning to soft open their first restaurant, the modern Vietnamese Ba Bay at 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, with Sharpe at the helm.

pair have been giving their chef a crash course in Vietnamese fare
between trips to Eden Center, cooking with family and the ultimate test:
preparing the entire menu for their Vietnamese grandma, whom the
restaurant is named after.

"Your family is your toughest critic," Khoa says. "They'll be critical even if they like it," he laughs.

says his indoctrination into the Southeast Asian food culture has gone
well and he's found plenty of common ground with his past cooking. "A
lot of it is same idea, different ingredients," he says. "Like the pho broth. It's broth. You want it to have the same balance."

Khoa, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has played a big role in helping Sharpe and pastry/sous chef Sara Siegel shape the menu. (All three, by the way, have worked at Vidalia.)  "These guys are great to let me guide them," says Khoa.

interest in cooking, however, wasn't something his family was initially
wild about. "They were like, 'We did not travel across the world for
you to be here to be a cook!'" says Khoa, who left Vietnam at 11. They're onboard
now, and Ba Bay will be the fulfillment of a dream he and Denise have
had to offer diners their take on their culture's cuisine.

"It's food I would make and serve to friends and family," Khoa
says."It's a fine line of being inspired by Vietnamese food and having
some roots in Vietnamese food. We're looking for that comfort zone where
we feel like it's our food but we still have the Vietnamese roots."

Diners can look forward to that tasty pork loaf, a recreation of cha lua, served with kolrabi slaw, as well as battered rice paper spring rolls, and "Shakey Beef," Sharpe's spin on the traditional dish with chili-lime salt, onion slaw and watercress purée. For dessert there's an avocado milkshake, with coconut caramel and a bay cookie. And maybe some playful popsicles.

Items on the a la carte
menu, which is designed for sharing, range from $6 to $22. Bay Bay will
be open for lunch and dinner daily, except Mondays. The restaurant is
slated to officially open the week of Nov. 22.