If the air just got a bit sweeter in South Lake Union, it could be thanks to the new Ba Bar expansion, which now houses the Vietnamese chainlet’s popular pastry program. In addition to the macarons, kouign amanns, croissants, and other diverse delicacies fans have come to love at the original Capitol Hill location, the new venue adds fried doughnuts to the mix, made light and airy with finely ground Italian 00 flour and filled with a rotating assortment of creams and custards at the whim of pastry chef Brad Van Meerten. Recent flavors have included pumpkin pie, vanilla bean custard, and hot chocolate.
Another welcome pastry-related change: the new Ba Bar opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays, two hours earlier than on Capitol Hill — chef/owner Eric Banh says that with the foot traffic in SLU, pastries at the new spot are selling even better than at the original.
A notable shift on the savory side: banh cuon, the housemade fermented-rice-noodle rolls stuffed with ground pork available weekends-only at the original Ba Bar, are now being served daily in SLU. As for the rest of the food menu, expect nearly identical offerings for now as chefs Khanh Vu and Stephan Paulson dial in the new kitchen. But Banh says he wants to introduce new options soon, like mi quang, a bright yellow turmeric-infused rice crepe with a thick stock served with items like pork spare ribs, prawns, chicken, and squid. Also, for anyone who wants a taste of Asian home-style cooking but not at home, keep an eye out for the upcoming addition of a rotating three-course family-style dinner for $18 every weeknight.
"You know, in Vietnam, in Asia, when you eat you have one powerful flavor and then you have a soup and some vegetable and rice. It’s balanced," Banh says. "Whereas in North America, a lot of restaurants, we want to be crowdpleasers, so we have very powerful flavor for all dishes. In Asia, they don’t eat like that at home, because it’d kill your stomach, overwhelm your palate." Banh compares many traditional Vietnamese dishes to light, delicate, natural wines that have been overtaken in much of the world by robust, intense versions like the oaky Chardonnays of California. Slowly but surely, he’d like to revisit the subtle classics at his restaurant.
Drinks are overseen once again by bar director John Christensen; Banh insisted on a couple of slushie machines for ice-cold boozy drinks: "I said listen, I grew up in Saigon and you drink iced soda all the time, so i want it in there." No arguments from this quarter.
The new 4,400-square-foot space seats 95 and Banh says it feels totally different from the original barring a few similarities. There’s a large central bar; two massive storefront windows are being replaced this week with sliding windows. Banh says he tried to be frugal but his costs nearly doubled by the time build-out was completed: "This town’s expensive, and you have to work on it after 8 p.m. because of offices, which means we had to pay lots of overtime." He also refuses to shut down despite the current lull after a lunch rush. "I don’t believe in a restaurant that closes down," he says. "I would wonder whether you’re open or not."
Welcome Ba Bar to the long and growing list of existing restaurant properties that are expanding to South Lake Union, looking for some of the sweet, sweet tech money flooding the streets of Amazonia: Mamnoon (Mamnoon Street, Anar, and Mbar), Tacos Chukis, Nirmal’s (a planned Southern Indian pub), Li’l Woody’s, Evergreens, and Jujubeet, Huxley Wallace Collective (the first of many Great State Burger outposts, Vestal, Poulet Galore, Cantine), and more.
500 Terry Ave N, (206) 623-2711, website. Open Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Correction, 12/8/16: An earlier version of this story misstated that Michael Chu was in charge of the kitchen at the new Ba Bar SLU.