San Jose’s new upscale Franco-Vietnamese restaurant / sports bar – with bouillabaisse, banh mi and a 200-inch TV screen
The hashtag #CestLeViet says it all. This is La Barrique, a fusion concept integrated into another fusion concept – a chic and playful sports restaurant-bar where French and Vietnamese dishes mingle on the menu.
This is the latest venture from San José entrepreneur Helen Nguyen, a veteran of international trade who added “restaurateur” to her resume after opening Pho Ha Noi restaurants in Little Saigon and Cupertino in San Jose in 2016 and 2019, respectively.
Soon after, she and her husband Harry Nguyen took over this cavernous restaurant space in downtown Vietnam near their first pho location. Over the next year, they tackled the business challenges of the pandemic and obstacles to outdoor seating, cooked and delivered meals to frontline workers – and reflected on what to do with their last acquisition.
They recently unveiled the final concept, so we stopped by the restaurant to check it out and meet their awesome culinary team.
The head chef is from Nice, France, Marc Pavlovic, former culinary coordinator and instructor at the Campbell International Culinary Center. It incorporates Vietnamese flavors into traditionally French dishes – for duck, lemongrass and star anise; for the pork belly, fish sauce in brine.
General manager Lucas England, who was previously bar manager for The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse in Palo Alto, does the same with the cocktail program he developed. There’s the popular Lychee Frozé, the Trái Xoài (mango) Margarita and the “Vietsper” topped with purple basil, a riff on the Vesper.
Here is an edited version of our discussion with the Nguyen:
Q: An upscale Franco-Vietnamese restaurant and sports bar is an unusual concept. How did you get the idea?
Helen: From the start, my husband and I thought about opening a small upscale restaurant and bar – especially for young Vietnamese customers – in the middle of Vietnam Town. But we also wanted to diversify to attract non-Vietnamese customers. We knew that with this location, the high end concept alone would barely attract enough customers, so we twisted the sports bar concept with high end food at affordable prices.
Q: And the name La Barrique?
Helen: The Barrel means barrel of wine. The reason I chose the French name is that our Vietnamese cuisine has been influenced by the French, and I love French cuisine. We decided to name our new restaurant with a French name in memory of my grandmother.
Q: What main dishes and hors d’oeuvres are raves?
Helen: Currently, the most popular dishes are the Duck Deux Façons (pan-fried breast, confit thigh), Bouillabaisse, Mussels Mariniere from PEI. and my favorite, the Homemade Bread Pâté. We bake bread and pie every day.
Q: For weekend brunch, La Barrique offers Bò Né, called “Vietnamese steak and eggs”. What else on this menu?
Helen: Bò Né means plate of sizzling beef. It is very popular in southern Vietnam, but all the ingredients – the flank steak, the pâté and the baguette – are sourced from France. We also have Pork Belly Congee and Mì Quang, the popular noodle from central Vietnam.
Q: And what’s on the French side of the brunch menu?
Helen: Croque Madame, Veggie Croque Madame, French Toast and Grilled Tuna Niçoise.
Q: So far, what sports are your guests interested in watching?
Harry: Our Vietnamese customers are expecting European football and the Copa America this summer. And we expect great interest in coverage of the Olympics.
Q: What about football this fall?
Details: La Barrique serves 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekends and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in downtown Vietnam, 969 Story Road, San Jose. For reservations, call 408-982-3771. The site is under construction; find the menu on barpay.com.