Michael Huynh is a very busy entrepreneur/chef. In addition to opening Bu’n here in New York in October, where his role was very hands-on from design to construction, Huynh had just helped open a multi-concept restaurant in Santa Monica called The Hidden Restaurant, which resides in a space that used to house Arnold Schwarzenegger’s restaurant “Schatzi on Main.” His new California restaurant involves four chefs, where customers can order sushi, Italian and pizza, tapas, and you guessed it - Vietnamese. Here in New York, however, Huynh’s 50-seat Bu’n is much more scaled-down. Bu’n features small plates and a simpler menu than his popular Mai House in Tribeca, which he opened last year with Drew Nieporent. But Bu’n still boasts co-owners with glitzy Hollywood names, like Warren Cuccurullo, founder of Missing Persons and guitarist for Duran Duran and Frank Zappa, and Brett Harrelson, brother of movie star Woody.
The menu, which was designed along with Huynh’s wife and chef Thao Nguyen, is divided into six sections. Bu’n Rolls is the first, and features dishes such as “Foie Gras Nem with pineapple relish, lettuce herbs”, and “Beef arugula, pineapple, herb, peanut sauce.” The Bu’n with Broth section includes “Spicy Curry Shrimp roasted pig, water spinach, curry broth”, and “Pho Ga hen meat, baby eggs, heart, liver, rau ram, ginger anise broth.” The other sections are “Cold & Salad,” and the larger plates are “Fish & Shellfish,” and “Meat & Poultry.”
The days and nights will almost merge at Bu’n, with dinner service lasting until two in the morning. Starting in December, breakfast will begin promptly at 7:30 a.m.
General Manager Julio Herencia said that he has worked in the past with about 90% of Bu’n’s crew that he helped to hire. “It’s important to get good people that you have worked with before, especially in a venture like this,” Herencia said. “It’s going to be a smaller restaurant but because of Michael’s reputation, we are going to get a lot of industry people in here, so you really have to be on-point right from the beginning.”
Chef Huynh, who is no longer involved with Bao 111 and Bao Noodles, sat down with us just before his busy opening celebration to share a few details with us on his new Grand Street restaurant.
NYRI: How did you and Warren Cuccurullo become partners?
Huynh: He would come to my restaurant at Bao when he was in NY. He loved my cooking. Eventually he said “why don’t you come to Santa Monica and open a restaurant there?” We did, and it’s called The Hidden Restaurant, we made it a big hit and we’ve been great friends ever since. Hidden Restaurant has 4 different chefs, and it has continental cuisine including Japanese, Italian, and Vietnamese.
NYRI: What do you want your customers to learn about Bu’n and what makes it different?
Huynh: The DNA of the Restaurant is Vietnamese, but it has a modern approach with French and Italian influences combined with Vietnamese. We want people to know that it’s Vietnamese food that is healthy and refreshing. Here in the USA, I have more knowledge and better skills to improve everything I’ve learned from my mother.
NYRI: I understand you designed the restaurant. The art is beautiful, where did you get it?
Huynh: The Artwork is supplied by Tiger Beer, they give me work from the best young artists in Asia; one is from Thailand and another from Beijing. The Buddha artwork at the front of the restaurant is from a young French Artist who lives in Vietnam in the summer.
NYRI: Will your menu have heavy French influences here at Bu’n much like Mai House’s menu does?
Huynh: Yes, I have been working on this menu for a long time. Wild Boar Blood Sausages, for instance, are very popular in Vietnam but they are also very popular in France. We added more of an Asian flavor to it, spices like ginger and lemongrass; we also added some heat like chili inside. The Apple puree that is on the menu is more a French technique, because the French have a big influence in Vietnam, but I still added Vietnamese flavors to it. Everything on the menu will have a Vietnamese flavor to it.
NYRI: The final meal cost seems like it will be very low, considering the quality of some of the ingredients you have here.
Huynh: This is like 3-star food for less money, it’s very high-end cooking. The average Check will only be $15 - $45 depending what you order. You can eat well for $15 but if you want to eat more you can spend $36 to $45 for 3 or 4 Appetizers.
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