Hours: Dinner; Seven
days a week, Sun-Thu, 5p.m-12a.m., Sat & Sun,5p.m.-2a.m.
Don’t Miss Dish: Crispy pork belly; Duck nem sausage; Baked whole fish.
Appetizers, $10, Entrees, $15, No dessert.
Cash only. Capsule: An exotic beer oasis on the Lower East Side.
Think La Esquina
by way of Vietnam and you’ve got Bia
Garden, which recently opened on the Lower East Side.If you’re not the kind of eater that
hunts down restaurants, you might miss it. But it’s worth discovering. There’s a dinky grill out front, the kind you’d find in
someone’s backyard in the suburbs. Step down a flight of stairs and you’ll find yourself at a take-out
counter where you can grab a bahn mi or bbq rib rolls. The shelves are stocked with fish sauce
and Café Du Monde coffee cans and there are bags of shrimp crackers hanging over
the kitchen window.
The hostess mysteriously escorts you through a walk-in
refrigerator door and a hallway lined with beer bottles along one wall and an
open kitchen along the other. Finally, you stumble upon a covered garden with twirling
ceiling fans overhead, benches, and rough wood tables topped with Café Du Monde
chopstick holders.There’s a
vibrant mural of Vietnam painted on the back wall.And you realize the bare bones, take-out counter is a grimy
cover for a hidden courtyard.
Bia Garden is
Michael Bao Huynh’s newest venture. He’s quickly amassing a small empire of Vietnamese restaurants that
include Bar Bao, Baoguette, and Pho Sure. Bia Garden only serves
Asian beer, like Tiger, Tsingtao, Taj Majal, and Kingfisher.There are twelve different kinds that
come in six packs, a dozen, or by the case, and arrive in buckets on ice.But you only pay for what you drink, so
you can try as many different kinds as you like.My favorite beer was a smooth, dark BeerLao, that paired up
well with many of the sweet, fatty meats you’ll find on the menu, like shaking
beef, duck nem sausage, or even the spicy seafood hot pot.The setting and the menu with small,
medium, and large plates is considerably laidback.
I loved the crispy pork belly – crusty nibbles of sweet meat
– as much the caramel-fish sauce that accompanied it.There’s a good starter of bbq rib rolls with slippery
vermicelli noodles and a meaty duck nem sausage, studded with pine nuts, and
served with an anchovy dipping sauce. Baked whole fish can be boring and
tedious.Not this one.Bia
Garden’s whole fish is a feast that requires every inch of table
space.Out from the kitchen comes
a shimmery pink snapper crowned with a fistful of scallions and crushed
peanuts.It comes with Vietnamese
basil, pickled onions, fish sauce, mushrooms, and rice paper.You dip the rice paper in warm water
and built your own fish wrap.
Unfortunately, the crab spring rolls tasted like every other
spring roll you could find on the street in Chinatown and so did the shaking beef,
which lacked the peppery kick that you’d traditionally find in the dish.
If you’re in the mood for a beer and a bite, you might want
to stray from your usual hangout and venture through the kitchen to this
backyard Bia Garden.