Berlu prepares one of the country’s most daring Vietnamese tasting menus

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If all goes well, Berlu will reopen on October 14 with one of the country’s most daring Vietnamese tasting menus.

Gone are the minimal French cuisine poems of Vince Nguyen, a quietly exciting talent who began to embrace and explore his Vietnamese roots for the first time during the pandemic. Judging from a preview of the menu, this is Vietnamese food as it is only reinvented in the mind of someone whose bathroom is plastered with images of their hero pushing the boundaries. , David Bowie.

Think street food meets old school fine foods and comforts marrying more modern conceptual notions, served in a small dining room on SE Belmont. This includes what is surely the world’s first bành bò nướng – a sweet, chewy, honeycomb-textured cake to kiss on a hot grill, then toast until hot and crisp. . On top: coconut cream and… caviar?

I have two words: seriously interested.

Like many second-generation children, Nguyen, who is 35 and raised in Southern California, says he rejected Vietnamese culture when he was younger. “I was ashamed of my heritage,” he told me recently. But in one of those “Who am I?” »Questions that hit people during the shutdown, everything has changed. Berlu — one of the PoMoBest New Restaurants of 2019 — Took a Break. Nguyen went to find himself.

He opened YouTube to learn how to make Vietnamese desserts. This opened up new family conversations and led to the weekend-only Berlu Bakery, a place to find a special treat, Vietnamese coffee or cake collaboration at a take-out counter set up at the main entrance. (Once the restaurant is open, the bakery will be open on Sunday only).

Meanwhile, he dove into hard-to-find Vietnamese soups with his hand-made fermented rice noodles, served in take-home kits.

Then, over the summer on Friday night, Nguyen played with street food, opening up new ideas and directions. It meant doing classic things he had never tasted before, like bò lá lốt, a snack of ground beef rolled and grilled in betel leaves. “My parents visited, and they found how hilarious they enjoyed it,” he says with a giant smile. “Some people said it was the best they’ve ever tasted. I understand the things that taste good. If I know the ingredients, I understand what he’s trying to accomplish.

Now comes the most ambitious chapter of this trip: the tasting menus, three evenings a week, from Thursday to Saturday. Space is small, so only 10 guests will be served per seat at tables approximately five feet apart. Staff will be masked and vaccinated, and guests will be asked to present a vax card or recent proof of a recent negative test. The cost is $ 115 per person, the food pairing is $ 55, plus a 3% wellness fee that helps cover full employee health insurance.

And note: Berlu remains dairy-free and has a dedicated gluten-free area.

The experience will begin with assorted snacks that reinterpret Vietnamese street foods. Berlu’s ethereal and artful rice crackers, for example, will receive a dusting of four homemade powders – shallots, dried local shrimp, chili, and fermented pork – inspired by a grilled Vietnamese pizza made at Berlu’s night market.

Next, a trio of platters will mix conceptual ideas with seasonal celebrations. The fourth and final savory dish, says Nguyen, represents a whole animal (in this case the duck), presented through a series of traditional Vietnamese dishes. The aged duck breast gets a sweet / spicy glaze; the thigh is transformed into chả lụa, a sausage traditionally made from pork; scraps of necks and wings are stuffed into bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls) playfully decorated with pickled roses; and crispy skin toppings a radicchio salad with a spicy coconut / duck fat dressing, peanut brittle and herbs.

But sweet dishes could steal the show, including this bành bò nướng topped with caviar. I am also curious to discover a terrine of coffee and shallots buffered with tangy plum jam, herbs and condiments, served with sweet black bean tea. Conclusion of the evening: Vietnamese hot chocolate.

A bigger picture? Portland is emerging as one of America’s most interesting Vietnamese American food scenes, as young cooks create their own stories. Berlu’s new tasting menus could punctuate this point.

Berlu, 605 SE Belmont St. Reservations at berlupdx.com.


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