September 3, 2009 | Short Order

Let Them Drink Beer, says Michael Bao Huynh

 
All photos by Steven Richter.

        “It only cost $100,000 to open this,” Michael Bao Huynh boasts at Bia Garden Wednesday evening. That much?  I’m wondering where he spent it.

        It’s not quite finished.  You might walk by without seeing it. Bia Garden is handwritten on a sheet of copy paper taped to the window, below a huge sign advertising “Crops for Girls” above. Can this be it? Shabby stairs lead down to a cubbyhole where two guys sit as if waiting to take your cleaning, or your bet. Maybe they’ll let you through the door to a cellar passage, past a cramped little kitchen you should best not study and a line waiting for the john.

        And then up stairs to the “garden,” half covered, half open to the Lower East Side sky (waiting for an all-weather canvas), to your small table, bare wood seats, a throw pillow.

 

        Huynh, already focused on more than half a dozen other ventures in the works, looks exhausted but cheers up watching tin crates of beer on ice hitting each table. You can order a “six pack,” a dozen, or a case from a roster of Asian beers, mostly in bottles, and pay only for what you drink, $4.50 to $6.50 each, cash only. 

        And all around us, a decidedly youngish crowd is definitely guzzling from the bottle, just as they do in Vietnam, we’re told, flirting, not necessarily eating as we are.  Huynh’s wife Thao Nguyen, having closed her uptown Baoguette shop earlyish, is seductive in a draped white crème gown sitting with friends.

 

        The Road Food Warrior doesn’t drink anymore but can’t resist a Tiger Beer.  Are we the only table asking for beer glasses?  And water?  And a serving spoon to dish out the fine green mango salad, spicy and salty too?  If eaters like us swarm here, it will definitely gum up turnover.  BBQ honey glazed lemongrass ribs are a must. I’m tempted to order a encore. Shaking beef with watercress and mustard vinaigrette and clams in hot beer broth with lemongrass, kaffir leaf and chili are lively, better than pallid stir fried squid.  And I’m thrilled our friend Truyen is here to show us how to wrap pieces of the whole fish with basil and mint leaves in lettuce and rice paper to dip into a spicy sauce. Salty too.  Of course silly, salty.  Have another beer, says a passing server.

        “Don’t you want another beer?” asks our waiter.  

        Even Sean Scotese, sane and charming, essential partner in Bao’s mushrooming empire joins the chorus:  “Another beer?” 154 Orchard Street. 212 780 0010.  No reservations. Cash only.

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