Asian fusion doesn’t have the bad rap it used to. Remember when it used to conjure up images of Chinese chicken salads topped with canned mandarin oranges, sloppy sushi pizzas, and greasy Philly cheesesteak-stuffed egg rolls? Ah, memories. In fact, there are now an army of New York restaurants that elegantly push the boundaries of traditional Asian dishes, like RedFarm, Kin Shop, Wong, Talde and Pok Pok Ny.
So add Brooklyn’s Falansai to that estimable roster, which melds together influences from Chinese, Vietnamese and French cuisines. Owner Henry Trieu (formerly of San Francisco’s famed Slanted Door) was inspired by his childhood growing up in Vietnam, where he listened to his Chaozhou-born father talk of his plight during wartime, fled China on a fishing boat, and scraped together a living transporting catfish between the Mekong Delta and Saigon. He also spoke of his touch-and-go experiences with the French colonists, or the falansai (Trieu’s father’s phonetic butchering of francais).
It’s quite a story, but does it make for an equally captivating restaurant? We’d certainly say so. The 65-seat room is understated (this is Bushwick after all) but charming, the brick wall behind the slim bar painted bright baby blue, potted rubber tree plants pushed into corners, and light bulbs hanging from the ceiling in pagoda-shaped birdcages.
As for the food, you’ll find Saigon street fare paired with home-style dishes, refined with Trieu’s own French touches and technique. Start with an assortment of “An Choi” (Eat for Fun), like tamarind and sriracha-glazed Chicken Wings, Green Papaya Salad with mint and crushed peanuts, or Dad’s Shrimp Rolls, a childhood favorite of Trieu’s which incorporates diced shrimp, jicama and shitake mushrooms in a crispy tofu paper wrap. Next comes a selection of hearty “An Com” (Eat with Rice), best of which are Mama’s Ginger Chicken, stir fried with potatoes, Braised Pork Belly, an herb-topped mélange of tender meat and whole quail eggs in a bath of coconut water and fish sauce, and the Clay Pot Catfish with fresh carrot and scallion.
Lunch veers a little further into Vietnamese territory, with a series of fragrant Pho Soups (try the halal lamb version), and crusty Banh Mi; vegetarians will appreciate the unique option of black olive pate, fermented mustard greens, green papaya, cucumber, carrot and daikon. And dessert is almost wholly French, featuring slabs of Chocolate Mousse Cake, Kaffir Lime Marbled Cheesecake, and Green Tea Mille Fuille; 20 crepes stacked and filled with jasmine-infused green tea cream. It’s marked by the vibrant flavors of Asia, but elegant enough to please even the most discerning falansai.