Ba Bay, Capitol Hill

I’ll come right out and say it (now) – I went to Ba Bay shortly after they opened, and didn’t like it. But I’ve always liked Khoa and Denise Nguyen, and I know two things about them: they’re very serious about this restaurant, and they also scampered to get it open. So rather than write anything at all, I simply told Khoa my honest thoughts when he asked me about the meal, and I pulled no punches.

Fast forward a couple of months. Last Saturday, I had another full meal at Ba Bay, and while of course two visits is not an adequate sample size, the difference between the meals was night and day.

Chili Glazed Wings ($12) with scallion is an ample portion of wickedly good wings, bathing in a semi-sweet sauce with soy overtones. Definitely meant to be eaten with your hands, and easily enough for two people to split as an appetizer.

Autumn Rolls ($9) were flat-out great, stuffed with egg, jicama, chinese sausage, and served with a peanut-hoisin dipping sauce, this may have been my favorite dish of the night, and yet …

Spicy Pork-Shrimp Broth ($12) with thick rice noodles, thai basil, pork loin, and shank was one of the most flavorful soups I’ve had in memory. What distinguishes this deceptively light-sounding dish is its inordinately thick broth – it was so thick that I asked Khoa what in the world they were putting into it (pig knuckles, among other things, given its almost gelatinous base). For me? It’s sensational, while at the same time lacking harmony because it was so heavy that I got too full eating it (and yes, I finished every last drop). Assuming the broth will become a bit thinner at some point (but not too thin) … get this.

Pho ($13) with rice noodles, Roseda Farm rib eye, tendon, tripe, and herbs was the one dish I only got a few spoonfuls of because I was busy slurping my own broth, but my impression is that this is about the most flavorful pho being offered in DC right now – it seemed a touch on the salty side, but that’s easily adjusted. The rib eye may be (may be) cooked sous vide, but it’s still extremely high-quality rib eye (and have you ever seen the garbage meats that usually get thrown into pho?). Be thankful for this.

Desserts were both stunning, and you absolutely have to save room for them. A Vietnamese Coffee Milkshake ($7) with churro and cinnamon chantilly was wasted on me because it was too good, and I was too full. As I type, I’m craving one right this second, and I’m tempted to start (yes, start) my meal with one next time.

Arguably, the Lemon Grass Pot de Crème ($7) was even better – not necessarily more “tasty,” but at a higher level culinarily. Served with lime sabayon, pineapple compote, and almond crumble, this was a great dessert that sat, tragically, fully one-third unfinished.

I saw Khoa on the way out, and he asked me how everything was. “What a difference,” I said. “You went six-for-six tonight.” Raised way up in the Dining Guide (available to participating members) – I can’t wait to go back to Ba Bay and explore more.

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