In the Cầu Giấy (paper bridge in English) district of Hanoi, diners sit on low plastic stools in alleyways and spill out onto sidewalks, assembling and devouring perfectly balanced bites of bún chả, or slurping steaming bowls of noodle soup. Cầu Giấy is where Quynh Nguyen was born, and where she met her husband, chef Carlo Reinardy. Now, on the other side of the world, the couple is opening their first restaurant, an homage to the food found in the Cầu Giấy district and Northern Vietnam at large.
The Paper Bridge will open on Thursday, November 9 in the inner Southeast Portland building that is also home to Bar Casa Vale and Scotch Lodge. Among major U.S. cities, Portland has a sizable Vietnamese population and is therefore no stranger to a pho restaurant. But the Paper Bridge aims to introduce unfamiliar Portlanders to many regional dishes that have likely never been available in the city’s restaurants before, from phở chiên phồng, rice noodles that are puffed up, fried, and smothered with a light gravy, to Vân Đình-style grilled duck served with glass noodles, chive flowers, daylilies, and bamboo consomme. And of course, the menu will hold plenty of space for bún chả, the iconic Hanoian noodle dish.
Since many of the dishes Nguyen and Reinardy will serve call for ingredients indigenous to Vietnam, they’ve partnered with suppliers there to directly import them. Other components will be made in-house. House fermented chiles will be transformed into four different chili sauces, each intended for a different use, whether it’s tailored for fried foods or used as an accompaniment to chicken wings. The restaurant’s variety of house-made rice noodles are the result of months of research; the couple will employ techniques learned from one of Nguyen’s cousins to make vermicelli and use a rice noodle machine developed by a mechanics professor in Vietnam, to whom they traveled to meet.
“I’d say rice noodles are about as hard as making a perfect croissant,” Reinardy says. “It’s a super complicated process — you do one thing wrong and literally (they) aren’t noodles anymore.”
Reinardy has over 20 years of experience as a chef, working in kitchens from his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Hanoi, and most recently, Portland, where he worked for the Art of Catering. He and Nguyen have been slowly chipping away at their shared dream of opening the Paper Bridge for the last ten years. “We spent a lot of time researching and talking to food vendors in Vietnam,” Reinardy says.
Although it’s not the focus per se, pho still carries a weighty presence on Paper Bridge’s menu, which traverses different Vietnamese locales by serving the noodles in their unique variations. Hailing from northeast Vietnam, the Lang Son-style sour pho is tossed with fried sweet potatoes, peanuts, and herbs, and is served with smoked pork and a pickled chile sauce. Nam Dinh’s pho is well-known for its beefy broth. Another preparation mimics the Cao Bằng style, where locals enjoy their pho with pork and duck.
The beverage menu will also showcase exclusive imported items; one of the restaurant’s vendors is a tea farmer who stewards 100-year-old heritage trees in northwest Vietnam. Once picked, the tea leaves are dried in a method where they’re stuffed into a young bamboo cane and smoked over an open fire. Custom coffee blends roasted in Ho Chi Minh City — the restaurant’s only south Vietnam representation — will be used to make drinks like cà phê trung (Vietnamese egg coffee) and iced coconut coffee. Diners can also sip on rượu, distilled rice wines which have been infused with ingredients like wild mountain apples, rose myrtle, or mulberry.
The Paper Bridge’s dining room will have two different sections: one that resembles those alleyways packed with people enjoying street food, a common scene in many Vietnamese cities. The other, which they call “the garden,” has traditional restaurant seating under a ceiling filled with hanging plants and paper lanterns.
“We wanted to show the dichotomy of Vietnam,” Reinardy says. “It’s a place that’s modernizing super fast — so you’ll see these giant skyscrapers and right next to it you’ll have a little stall serving iced tea.”
The Paper Bridge will open at 828 SE Ash Street.