Bun-Ker. Bunker. Heaven.

Bun-Ker

It’s the pot of Vietnamese gold at the end of the where-the-hell-are-we-anyway rainbow. Even in its second iteration, it’s off off the beaten track.  Finding it however, is part of its charm and worth any missed turn.

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Thankfully, there is a there…there.

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Pulse quickens…

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Magic time.

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Hi ceilings, tall trees, brightly colored stools, one communal table and a smattering of others. The decor has a Tropic Thunder meets a let’s-all-get-high and have a paintball war motif. On an island. With great music.

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An actual pressed juice bar. This makes for intriguing concoctions, very creative cocktails and there’s a killer wine list too.

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Jimmy Tu and his sous-chef brother Jacky have been around the chef block. Their combined history includes Korilla BBQ truck, Tigerland, a Vietnamese spot shared with sister Judy in the East Village, as well as the ultimate springboard – being one of the original opening chefs at Eleven Madison. And somewhere in between, they shadowed street carts in Vietnam too, studying recipes, and finessing tools of the trade that would become a signature, like a Japanese grill with binchotan charcoal.

They ultimately landed in their own seafood distribution company, Fish and Ship, which unfortunately met its match with Hurricane Sandy. Not to be outdone by the storm, Jimmy and his posse of hip-hop loving skating buddies, dried out the space and created a tiny kaleidoscope of a Vietnamese food shack in Ridgewood, Queens. The rest is beautifully defined Hanoi specialties with the essence of homemade street food history.  The new menu is at least double the offerings of the old place. Plans for house-made food products, skating gear, mushroom growing and more abound. It’s fun, loose, and comfortable but the genuine intent behind the food is never compromised.

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I said a hip, hop, the hippy to the hippy, to the hip hip hop, because Roy don’t stop!

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Bun-Ker Limeade, a heavenly nectar of lime, shiso, coconut sugar and basil seeds. It’s remarkably complex and so refreshing.

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Goi Du Du Char, vegan papaya salad with crispy tofu, red onion, carrot, tomato, peanut, and sesame. It has a boldness you don’t always see in the usual mandolined versions, here it’s more thickly sliced so you can really taste each gratifying component. Get it with the illustrious homemade beef jerky if you prefer meat with your papaya. This dish, like many others, can be made without meat so vegetarians don’t get the short shrift.

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Gorgeous greens, fresh herbs and rice crisps for your charcoal grilled pork skewers.

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Now you be the chef…

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Wet your rice paper and let it soften. Add sauce and condiments.

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You did it. Wrap and eat.

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Ultra fresh summer rolls filled with wild prawns, roast heritage pork, vermicelli, lots of mint, more herbs, and of course… peanut sauce. Playfully chewy and then wham, a mouthful of zesty flavor.

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Com Chien Chay, mushroom fried rice with organic mushrooms, organic egg, garlic chives, tomatoes and cashews is lovely. Plus the hints of bright lemongrass elevate rich bites of meaty mushrooms.

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Vegetarian Banh Xeo with turmeric, turns gold and is stuffed with organic shiitakes and a rad collection of herbs. The carnivore version includes shrimp, bacon, egg, and sprouts. Everything is tucked into a crunchy, crispy, succulent, oh so savory rice flour pastry, yet it’s like a delicate soufflé on the inside.  Hits high on the ethereal meter. A drizzle of Nuoc Cham provides the perfect acidity for the icing on the crepe.

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Grilled Lemongrass Black Angus Short Ribs are strewn with sweet, minty shiso leaves and chopped peanuts across the incredibly tender chunks of meat. Slightly sweet and a little smoky.  A splash of fish sauce and it pretty much melts in your mouth.

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Coconut Braised Berkshire Ribs are just that. Tender, falling off the bone meat, redolent of the coconut broth and young fruit it was simmered in.  Served with tea egg and bitter melon, the salty fragrance of the former and the sharpness of the latter are a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the coconut.

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Tomato Garlic Fried Rice is way more interesting than you might expect. Just get it. It’s subtle, sublime and you’d best like garlic.

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Suon Nuong Xa, Heritage Pork Loin marinates for about 8 hours in a mixture of lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chili peppers, fish sauce, Chinese xo sauce, oil and palm sugar, and then it’s ready to  caramelize on the grill. Dressed with scallion oil and crispy pork skin bits, plus an organic fried egg and what appears to be a simple execution exceeds any pork dishes you previously worshipped. Garlic Rice rounds out the plate. It’s always the quality of ingredients plus imagination here that solidifies the ace level of cooking and taste.

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Sweet satisfaction as your teeth crack the edge of a golden, deep fried, crispy spring roll surprisingly made from a delicate Chinese egg roll wrap.  It’s bursting with sweet lumps of fresh crabmeat, shaved carrots, and toothsome vermicelli. (The Bun in Bun-Ker is a witty play on vermicelli in Vietnamese) Bright, fresh, and snappy, the extras of lettuce, mint, and chili sauce bring it all together.

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Carmelized Wild Mexican Shrimp with ginger, garlic, basil, and sweet fried shallots in a sublime, sticky, rich sauce tasting of molasses and dates taunts my memory daily. We had this without the addition of roasted pork but by all means… Eat them whole with the shell on. It’s where the flavor happens and no peeling means no having to sneak a lick of your fingers at the table.

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Fried Whole Fish in a tamarind chili sauce. I think this one was 4 lbs, there were three of us and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t an ounce remaining. It was sweet, spicy, sour with crisped skin and I could not stop picking through the plate once it was clearly over.

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Coconut Tapioca Pudding, the pleasing nuttiness of coconut milk amplifies the sweet and sour jackfruit, bits of pineapple, palm seeds. Creamy, cold tapioca pearls refresh and soothe body and soul.

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Vietnamese cookies!

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Where’s Waldo? Where’s here? In case you needed to place yourself in the universe, this might help. Ha.

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The neighborhood may be sparse but the sentiments are graffitied for good.

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And because you may just have over ordered, the indulgence shall continue in the morning.

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Bun-Ker is popular. Hard to believe that when they first started, the group rode around on bikes and dropped off menus to drum up business. 70 seats total inside but you can still depend on a wait. Outdoor garden seating in season increases your chances for getting your hands on that crepe sooner than later. At least in this new spot, the cocktail bar, Honey specializing in mead is next door to shorten the wait time.

This is exquisite comfort food. It’s not your Chinatown inexpensive foray into Vietnamese cuisine. It’s carefully considered classic combinations that use the highest quality, well sourced, organic, grass fed, free range, straight from the Icelandic ocean kind of ingredients. The kitchen turns them into deliriously good concentrated flavors. Chefs use a mortar and pestle often, coaxing the smallest, seemingly least important ingredient into giving its utmost. Flavor opens into more flavor.

All roads seemed to have led the Tu’s back to their roots and ultimately doing what their hearts always knew best. They’ve made a huge success of it. And now it’s our success too, because the food is superb, and you’ll always leave here happy.

 

 

Bun-Ker

99 Scott Avenue

East Williamsburg (just bordering Ridgewood, Queens)

718.386.4282

Open Tuesday-Saturday noon to 11pm, Sunday noon-10pm and closed Monday

Faro To Table

Faro

It’s cool, creamy, industrial chic, but also like a big-warm-everything-will-be-alright-I swear kind of hug. I’ve been lucky enough to dine here a few times and each visit reminds me that Portland has nothing on NYC. Plus there’s that Roman Gnocchi but I’ll get to that later.

Owned by married partners, Chef Kevin Adey and wife Deborah, who handles the front of house, they have a combined lineage of Jean Georges, Le Bernardin and most recently, Northeast Kingdom, also in Bushwick. Together they’ve created a restaurant with unaffected charm that truly and soundly is farm and grain mill to table. Others may do it, or tease it but these two are living their dream. Wood fired food, ranging from locally grown rooftop vegetables to NY state grown grains that are hand milled in house, a farmer’s ethically produced meat, to local fish and pastas that are conjured from just made grains by the hands behind the counter.

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If you live nearby, likely the streets will feel more familiar and less deserted to you as the “L” or the Uber pulls up. But I love nothing more than having no idea where you are, peering through a dark evening and seeing the light. So to speak. No reservations, and if you encounter a brief wait, no matter. Great staff, splendid food. It’s  worth it.

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Now, a tavola! Started with an on tap NY State Rosé that was delightful and set the tone of pleasure and whimsy for the food. There’s definitely a sly wit behind the range. Plus we added house made warm bread with butter that is just impossible to deny. It’s a menu item and they only make a few loaves a day so you should just go for it. Carbs are not the thing to fear here. Embrace and revel.

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There’s a good list of wines, local beers and twelve lovingly designed cocktails. Apparently the whiskey sour is the one to beat, made with Medley Bros. 102 Heritage Bourbon and with twists and dashes of this & that, it has garnered raves all around.

Two different porridges from two different visits, both divine. At one dinner a friend looked directly into the bowl and asked, where have you been all my life? It’s supreme comfort and tantalizing seduction all at once.

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The illustrious, widely acclaimed Sweet Pea Porridge with local grains, morel mushrooms and foamy whey. Essence of spring. Fabulous. Did I mention that?

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This week it was a lovely combination of corn, chanterelles and scallions. You just wouldn’t have expected porridge in the current dining scene to rate so highly and echo Oliver’s cry of “please sir, could I have some more?”

Several more digressions before we hit what might be considered the main courses. Larger plates? We shared everything each time so it was all just a huge feast to me.

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Fire Roasted Beet with a local farm egg and pistachio pesto sit atop a cream of goat cheese. The four main ingredients are all winners, bringing out the very best in each other. Inspired.

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Tomatoes and cucumbers from nearby Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, in an escarole boat with scattered bits of feta. Simple, delightful, summer.

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Wood fire roasted carrots. Like being in Italy, good Italian cooking is the sum of the ingredients not the now popular foam to table techniques. Another entry from Brooklyn Grange Farm. Truly locavore, even the same boro.

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Peekytoe Crab with corn and a dollop of creme fraiche was fresh and summery but the only dish I’ve eaten here that seemed to be missing a soupçon of something. Maybe because my companions cleaned off the creme fraiche before I got into it and that could have made the difference? Still very nice but it’s in tough competition with my table’s other dishes.

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Corn tortellini with mascarpone, chanterelles and carmelized bits of fresh corn was a late spring entree and it’s salty sweet subtlety still lingers in my mind. The chanterelles were a wonderful counter to the corn’s creamy earthiness, and gave the pasta a peppery finish with a hint of their apricot musk. Hope it returns. June is right around the corner right? Sigh.

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A special pasta the other evening was a delicate garganelli with insanely -can’t worship enough- peppers from the clearly profound fields of Brooklyn Grange Farm. Perfectly folded, toothsome squares of pasta. This almost made me regret the second order of the Roman Gnocchi for the table but I digress.

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An on-the-menu pasta is the somewhat infamous Squid Ink Calamaretti served with Maine lobster in a light coconut curry milk. All of the pastas are so beautifully, brilliantly cooked – it’s almost like the perfect chip, bet you can’t eat just one. The lobster was spot on and we all loved that the pasta shape appears as squid rings so it was not only delicious but amusing. Pasta with a sense of humor. Who knew.

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There is much to be enjoyed from sustainably sourced and ethically produced meats on the menu but we only got as far as the Wood Fired Scallops with peas, bottarga and milled right there by the chef – emmer (farro). These were just great. The ideal sear, charred crust that sinks into that sweet scallop brine as you bite it.

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As much as I enjoyed everything and am clearly a fan, my heart is seated squarely in that Roman Gnocchi. This is just heaven. It’s not a light dish, two large pieces of semolina covered in yet more from Brooklyn Grange gold – swiss chard or kale, depending on what month you dined here. Then cream and salt cured egg yolks. Apparently the egg is smoked overnight in the embers of all that wood-firing and then shaved over the rich, soft grain. I can’t get enough. It’s luscious. Best word I can think of for it. Truly luscious.

The space is big, bright and airy, a former warehouse for Moma art storage. A minimal fifty seats keep diners feeling spacious and comfortable. Decorated (that word minimally applicable here) sparely. White walls, startlingly high ceilings, custom built tables and the coup de grace, locally handcrafted high fire clay plates by artist Sarah Ritz through her company Freundeskreis. They’re all varied, muted hues and beautiful. And as intended, go impeccably with the decor and most importantly the philosophy behind Faro. Local, artisanal, community.

The tables were even custom sized to accommodate the ample plates and bowls, all of which were created to allow for diners with shared plates and glasses to actually have room at the table. So nice to be considered for a change.

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Innovative, outstanding cooking with more than a nod to local and sustainable sources, a celebration of respect and collaboration for regional growers, producers, artists and most emphatically, the food Chef Adey creates himself.

Faro
436 Jefferson Street
Bushwick, Brooklyn
718.381.8201
Open daily from 6pm-11pm