Midtown’s Hotel Mela hopes to lure midtowners to upscale French-inflected Vietnamese at newly-minted restaurant Saju. Co-owner & restaurateur Phillippe Bernard plays up the cuisine’s traditional emphasis: green papaya & shrimp salad, pho bo and lemongrass tiger shrimp. What used to be headline-worthy is now just par for the course as Saju waits with countless others for the city’s approval to wheel & deal in alcohol. However, this may prove quite NEWSWORTHY: insider intelligence reveals debut strife as the original chef, Thao Nguyen (formerly the chef at Bao 111 & Bao Noodles, and interestingly also the wife of Mai House’s Michael Bao Huynh) who devised Saju’s menu, has abruptly exited stage left. Thao Nguyen has been conveniently replaced by Hung Nguyen (any relation?). As Eater deftly observed, it’s all very “curious“.
A source writes in: “The new chef is Hung Nguyen. He is the sous chef of Thao Nguyen. Prior, Hung Nguyen worked for Jovia, not Bouley or Jean-Georges. Where did NY magazine get that information from? Also, Vietnamese Bouillabaisse is Thao’s dish. Thao Nguyen left because the owner did want to pay her as promised. He claimed that he did not get the liquor license yet, so he didn’t have the money – smart to replace Thao with the sous chef, take the menu and recipes.” – Restaurant Girl inbox.
When I called Saju’s PR firm to officially confirm or deny, they claimed ignorance as to the identity of the new chef. Things got even more dubious when I rang up the restaurant, resulting in this curt reply: “Just come in and try the food.”
Not ’til we get to the bottom of this. I think there’s more to this story – don’t you? Call me curious. Does anyone know something? Oh, do tell…
Address: 120 West 44th St., near Sixth Ave.
Until we eat again,
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