Becca was really, really hungover. While she inspected the porcelain in Ba Bay’s restrooms, the rest of us settled in for brunch. And for those of us who could stand the sight of food, a “modern” Vietnamese brunch at the relatively new Capitol Hill spot Ba Bay turned out to be a nice alternative to your standard diner hangover fare. Perhaps, even, the perfect cure.
That particular Sunday morning we were all stumbling in from different locations in different states of disrepair. Needless to say, our party did not arrive at the same time. The wait staff and host were incredibly accommodating—likely because the restaurant was nearly empty. It gradually filled up, but never even reached a low-roar, despite its location on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Eastern Market Metro, and despite the gorgeous wide-open floor-to-ceiling window that looked into the picturesque restaurant.
Once everyone had arrived and coffee and drinks had been sorted, we were ready to eat. To start, everyone shared a few plates, which is definitely the way to go on this brunch menu. We shared two from each end of the taste spectrum: The chili glazed wings were savory and addictive. I would eat these close to 24 hours a day and will now crave these over your standard buffalo or barbecue wings any day. We also shared the crispy rice sticks, which are served with sriracha aioli. These weren’t that crispy and are the definition of bland comfort food. In a lot of ways, that dish was the exact opposite of the chili wings.
For the mains, most of the table opted for the banh mi, which is served is three separate ways at Ba Bay: with fried eggs, pork belly or meatball. Each person who had each dish was equally satisfied … “Out of this world” is how one described the egg banh mi, to this day. The dishes were packed with flavor, especially the pork belly.
I had the jasmine rice, shitake, onions, peppers, soft poached egg dish—a filling and hearty meal. It could have used a bit more salt or seasoning of some sort, but it was still mostly satisfying. The sandwich was the truly exceptional dish on the brunch menu, though the menu is so confusing to read, I can’t remember what was in it. (Our server, by the way, was really helpful at suggesting dishes for us to try.)
One thing to note about this brunch menu is that it isn’t trying to be traditional Vietnamese here; rather, I think, it’s putting it’s own modern spin on Vietnamese … at brunch. I like that. But the menu does offer pho, which some friends of mine seek out in D.C. like it’s the new culinary gold. Ba Bay’s pho is made with rice noodles, Roseda Farm rib eye, tendon, tripe, and herbs. I didn’t try it, but that stew looked steaming and mouth-wateringly good being served to other tables around us.
Oh, and did I mention the coffee yet? I need my coffee at brunch, and Ba Bay’s Vietnamese brew unexpectedly did the trick. Cups are individually brewed and served with sweetened condensed milk. It’s delicious, strong and aromatic. But you won’t want refills on this Joe; it’s crazy rich. One thing to note is that Ba Bay also offers its Vietnamese coffee as a milkshake on the dessert menu. It’s mixed with churro and cinnamon Chantilly—sounds divine, no?
Some at the table had the Bloody Kenny, which was meh. The Mary modification offered sriracha and cucumber spears. Its drinker switched to beer. The mimosa of choice was the Ginger Rogers: cava and Domaine de Canton with a lemon twist. A classy cocktail for such a sleek, trendy brunch space.
The Bitches say: A. The food was good, the service was spot-on and helpful, and the ambiance was perfect for a Sunday morning. Mostly it earns its A because we all want to go back and try the other items on the menu. Even Becca, who didn’t get to try any of it (though she did say the bathrooms are very clean there).
633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20003