Chao Chao, a new Vietnamese restaurant located in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood, officially opened to the public on Wednesday. Created in collaboration with dynamic hospitality partners who have worked in some of the best establishments, Chao Chao offers homestyle, yet innovative Vietnamese cuisine to locals and visitors of New York City alike.
The restaurant is the brainchild of New York City native, Executive Chef and Owner Stephan Brezinsky. In pursuit of his lifelong passion for French and Vietnamese Food, Stephan Brezinsky left a successful career as a Hollywood VFX artist to set up shop in a popular Los Angeles Farmer’s Market, where his authentic Bretagne Crêpes quickly won the hearts of locals. Upon return to his hometown of New York City, he honed broad culinary experience in various positions front of house, back of house, and within the kitchen at Rue B, Il Mulino, The Third Man, and most recently, Pok Pok NY.
Chef Brezinsky learned to cook primarily from his mother, Kimxuan Brezinsky, who grew up in Saigon when it was under French influence. She has lived in the Stuyvesant Town neighborhood in New York City for 41 years, and raised her family there while teaching French and philosophy. An excellent cook, Mrs. Brezinsky taught her son how to cook from the age of 2 and instilled the importance of family gatherings at the dinner table.
Chao Chao is now, figuratively, Chef Brezinky’s home, and he aims to serve friends, old and new, a meal as if he were serving within his home with his family. “Chao Chao“ means a number of things in Vietnamese, one of which is a welcoming “hello” as it establishes itself within the neighborhood.
The 65-seat restaurant celebrates the simplicity and beauty of nature, something treasured in the Vietnamese culture. The white-washed brick walls are adorned with green plants; glass terrariums succulents and airplants are sprawled throughout the space. A bar welcomes guests as they first enter, where they are able to order a selection of beverages and bites from the full menu. The restaurant is filled with the sounds of rock from the 1960s, 1970s, 80s, and 90s, played from the restaurant’s vinyl collection.
Granite dining tables and dark wooden chairs line the walls, allowing the front and back of the restaurant to flow with bustling energy. The back section of the restaurant holds additional dining tables and an open chef’s kitchen, where guests can watch the cooks at work while they dine. An outdoor garden hosts an assortment of fresh herbs for kitchen and bar usage.
Not for the faint of heart, Chao Chao combines fresh ingredients with bold, authentic flavors, where the heat is not remiss. True to Vietnamese cuisine, the dishes are light and bountiful, and the colorful hues, textures, and flavors of the fresh ingredients leave a memorable impact on the palate. As they do in the Brezinsky household, all menu items are meant to be shared.
The Món khai vị on the menu are ideal to pair with a drink at the bar, or as an appetizer at dinner. Dishes range from Taro Tots, tapioca and coconut flake battered taro, fried and tossed in wasabi tobiko and finger limes, and served with fish sauce aioli; to finger foods like Chicken Wings glazed in a caramel, fish sauce, and five spice blend, tossed with puffed rice and sesame seeds.
The salads and raw dishes burst with color and flavor from house fermented vegetables, fresh citrus and herbs from the garden. Cauliflower Three Ways combines pickled, fried, and raw cauliflower, tossed with shredded granny smith apples, chardonnay vinaigrette, and fried garbanzo beans. For those who seek the heat, the Spicy Raw Beef tartare is mixed with Sriracha, crispy shallots and crushed peanuts.
Heartier options are found in the “From the Wok” section. A traditional Thịt Kho is updated with braised pork shoulder and belly, served in a caramel fish sauce, topped with a pickled soy egg, and Asian long beans. Cà ri bò features beef cheeks marinated in shrimp paste and slow cooked in a lemongrass coconut milk curry with egg noodles.
Grilled selections range from lighter to more robust options—a colorful Squid Salad, charred and tossed in pickled cucumbers, radishes, carrots and Vietnamese herbs. A stellar dish for the table includes the Banana Leaf Fish, composed of ginger seasoned Skate wing, grilled in a banana leaf with shrimp powder and served with a charred daikon salad. The dish is served in a flame through tableside presentation.
The “From the Fields” section features dishes where vegetables are the star. Grilled and Charred Eggplant consists of an eggplant purée topped with grilled Japanese eggplant, pickled cucumber and radish, and garnished with crushed peanuts and mint. The Autumn Curry is made with seasonal vegetables, stewed in a coconut milk yellow curry flavored with turmeric and pickled Vietnamese peppercorns.
Ideal for groups of all sizes, Chao Chao offers two large format dishes. The Cá Kho Tộ, a Vietnamese Fish Stew for three, is served with sticky rice; and the Half Roasted Duck for Two is slow roasted and served with rice flour pancakes, flash pickled cucumbers, and dipping sauces.
To end on a sweet note, Taro Jasmine Ice Cream is served with kaffir lime meringue, toasted milk and coconut crumble, and a pickled turmeric espuma.
Chao Chao’s beverage menu includes selections of sake, beer, wine, sherry, and cocktails. Beers are offered by the draft and bottle, with a majority produced locally in New York, as well as bottles native to Japan and Vietnam. Wine selections are available by the glass or bottle sourced regionally and from around the world, each tailored to pair with the menu items dependent on balance and complexity of the flavors and textures.
Chao Chao’s cocktail menu is created by renowned mixologist Tom Richter of Dear Irving, and formerly, The John Dory Oyster Bar, and Milk and Honey in New York City, amongst others. Each cocktail is created specially with wines, beers and sake, and fresh ingredients from the kitchen and garden, to imbibe on its own or to pair with the food. The Nah Toi is a take on the classic negroni, made with sake, Cappelletti, Cardamaro, and Byrrh quinquina; and the Amie Zing is made with nigori, fermented coconut water, pineapple sambal and lime. A large format cocktail, the Foreign Legion, is made to be shared by up to four guests, and is made with Dubonnet, house-carbonated sake, ginger, orange, lemon, and Tomr’s tonic.
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