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Posted at 9:53 AM ET, 09/ 8/2010

The Hill awaits a Vietnamese menu

By Justin Rude

Banh mi are replacing whole branzino at 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE this fall.

The former home to the Italian-themed Locanda is morphing into Ba Bay, a 49-seat dining room expected to open in November and serve small plates of Vietnamese street food, according to managing partner Denise Nguyen.

The owner is her cousin, Khoa Nguyen, who plans to supervise both the front and back of the Capitol Hill operation. Diners might recognize his name from Vidalia, where he was a manager and special events planner for 4 1/2 years. A 2005 graduation of the Culinary Institute of America, Khoa Nguyen has also cooked at the late Bao 111 and DB Bistro Moderne in New York City.

Ba Bay -- "Madame Seven" in English -- is a nod to the cousins' grandmother, whose husband was the seventh son in his family.  In Vietnames culture, relatives are addressed by their rank, explains Denise Nguyen.

She says her cousin will be "cooking the things we cook for our friends," with a few Western touches. Diners can expect beef-and-pork soup with rice noodles incorporating pork sausage instead of the traditional pigs foot, and seared instead of steamed duck atop a bed of vinaigrette-dressed cabbage. Lunch service will include those banh mi; one Vietnamese sandwich will be stuffed with grilled prawns, pickled onions and anchovy-laced aioli.

The restaurateurs are searching for a kitchen manager, and not necessarily someone with Vietnamese roots. Khoa Nguyen likes the idea of someone coming into the project with "a fresh perspective."

Meanwhile, the cousins' grandmother is expected to come over from her home in London in a few weeks to do what discerning grandmothers do:  "Critique us,"  says Denise.

-- Tom Sietsema

By Justin Rude  | September 8, 2010; 9:53 AM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  | Tags:  Banh mi, Vietnamese  
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