Chef Trinh Nguyen was a young girl when her family relocated from Vietnam to a refugee camp in Thailand during the 1980s, after a period of economic and political upheaval for the region. Her younger brother, Thai, was born in that camp, and was still very young when the family eventually migrated to the United States. But, more than twenty years later, Trinh recalls the time in Thailand vividly. “We had to cook with what we could find around us from local farms,” she tells Eater Seattle. “We had to improvise.”
Today, the Nguyen siblings open their new Vietnamese restaurant Ba Sa on Bainbridge Island, honoring their upbringing and experience with different Southeast Asian cultures, along with a few lessons learned about sustainability. The new spot at 101 Winslow Way East features small plates with ingredients sourced locally, such as Xào Lăn (stuffed wings with ground pork from Oregon’s Carlton Farms, shiitake mushrooms, and curry glaze) and Bò Lá Lõt (betel leaves with beef sirloin, lemongrass, and woven noodles). Those go alongside shareable dishes, like Gỏi Vit (duck breast, with baby arugula, ginger vinaigrette, and Thai chili) and the restaurant’s signature bone-in, braised catfish, served in a clay pot — one of the dishes Trinh and Thai’s mom used to make all the time.
There’s also an extensive drinks list, with premium sake selections, local beer, and cocktails that will rotate seasonally. Right now, patrons can sip on Blushing Tigers (with gin, rosé, lychee, and strawberry), Ba Sa Mules (with Icchiko Saiten shochu, ginger, and lime), and Tamarind Sours (with Nikka whiskey, tamarind juice, and calamansi juice).
The siblings got much of their early culinary training working at their parents’ popular Poulsbo, WA, restaurant Pho T&N. While Trinh was a self-taught cook, Thai received more formal training at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and an externship at the acclaimed New York restaurant Daniel, before returning home to help run Pho T&N when their parents retired in early 2018.
Trinh says she wants to bring that family connectivity to Ba Sa, with a space that’s welcoming to locals or people coming to the island just for the day with their brood. The spacious, light-filled spot at 101 Winslow Way East has seating for 54, with a view into the open kitchen, and a patio with additional seating. While the decor skews toward simplicity, with white walls, black trim, light wood tables, and subway tiles, there’s an eye-catching mural of a catfish from local artist Dozfy on one wall. Just one more reminder of the Nguyens’ past, with a look toward their future.