For the entirety of its life, Berlu has shape-shifted. It has been a pop-up prix fixe, a tasting menu restaurant, a bakery, a noodle bar, a night market stall. Vince Nguyen, the restaurant’s owner and star chef, has become increasingly nimble in recent years, a necessity for anyone in the industry as of late. So now, although his restaurant has returned to its prix-fixe tasting menu format, Nguyen has decided to mix things up once again — this time, in honor of his sommelier, Katie Sombat.
Although Berlu has taken on many forms, generally it’s known for chef Nguyen’s take on Vietnamese cuisine, ranging from classic desserts like bánh bò nuong, to dishes more unique to Berlu, like a durian-and-geoduck dish with silken tofu. Before the pandemic, however, Berlu’s tasting menu was less rooted in any specific culinary tradition — more than he leaned on one country’s culinary repertoire, he played with mood and form, using savory ingredients in desserts and serving stocks and soups in test-tubes. On any given visit to Berlu, however, Sombat has poured a head-turning collection of wines: 2020 Maurer Crazy Lud white, for instance, or Villa Oeiras 15 Yr. Carcavelos with a dessert course. “The wine pairings have been a hit, so I wanted to create a more casual concept so guests can get to know our sommelier, Katie, while also offering some classic Vietnamese dishes,” Nguyen says. On Sunday nights, Berlu will shift into Berlu Wine Bar, with a rotating menu of wines by the glass and a la carte snacks.
The food menu will involve a number of snack-y items on the tasting menu — bánh xèo, a Vietnamese turmeric crepe, will regularly make an appearance, filled with things like Lan-Roc pork belly or shiitake mushrooms. On the Berlu tasting menu, bánh xèo arrives looking closer to a taco, but in the wine bar setting, Nguyen will scale them up a bit more. “Many have claimed it as a favorite, so we thought it’d be fun to offer a few different variations,” Nguyen says, “in a large shareable format.”
The rest of the menu will rotate often, but the first service — Sunday, January 30, from 5 to 9 p.m. — will include dishes like the beef-tendon salad gỏi gân bò, DIY rice paper salad rolls with things like roasted duck breast or roasted maitake mushroom, and coconut rice pudding with tropical fruit and, in true Nguyen-ian fashion, fried shallots. The wine program will include around five wines by the glass as well as bottles, with the occasional limited release and special bottles with wine by the glass.