Text and photos by Stacie Joy
There is something magical watching a close-knit team work together to create something.
In that light, I was pleased to arrive early enough at the elegant and modern Vietnamese restaurant Van Da, 234 E. Fourth St. between Avenue A and Avenue B, to watch the chefs prepare, taste, and perfect the day’s special, tôm rim shrimp. It’s a seafood dish cooked over high heat with caramelized fish sauce, peppers and toasted cashews, all served over broken rice, which executive chef Mary Celine Bui calls “tortured rice” due to the process that it undergoes to become “broken.”
The dish is tasted by all staff members and discussed (chef Jay Bui, Mary’s husband and partner in the kitchen, offers to add some green onions), and notes are jotted down to inform diners about the special, before the chefs make a new batch with modifications under the watchful eye of owner Yen Ngo.
Yen, Mary and Jay go through several iterations of the plate before Yen is satisfied that it is ready for her customers.
We feel so fortunate to have such amazing writeups and to be recognized by the Michelin. It’s such an honor. Restaurant businesses are so hard, we love this kind of recognition plus the reviews of our guests.
This is definitely the biggest challenge. It’s hard for people to eat outside in the cold. However, I agree that we need to keep everyone safe.
We are in a dense neighborhood, it’s so important for us to make sure the people who live nearby are not constantly bother by loud music and worse — bad music. As a diner, I also am completely turned off by terrible and loud music so that you have to scream to be heard.
Normally, I ask business owners about what’s next for them, what their plans are going forward. Knowing that we don’t know a lot about how the pandemic and its surrounding issues will play out, what are your thoughts on the restaurant industry as we look toward next year?
Wow, this is a tough one to answer. I am very worried about the restaurant industry altogether. There are already so many closures and will be many more the next few months. In January and February of 2020, we were doing extremely well and thought that we are going to make it and become a neighborhood destination.