Widely credited as one of the city’s top Vietnamese restaurants while it was open, Ana Mandara shuttered in 2012 due to rising costs and a raised rent, prompting chef/owner Khai Duong to return to Vietnam. Now, in a true sign of the times, Duong is back with another high-end Vietnamese spot called Khai — but this time, he’s renting out SoMa’s Bonjour Patisserie at night rather than his own space.
It’s a smart move in today’s restaurant climate, one where businesses are closing left and right, especially in that neighborhood. To keep costs down, Duong transforms the space at night into what he calls a “very elegant, intimate” atmosphere. “It’s like Cinderella,” he joked. “It’s a sharing economy, and restaurants are so expensive right now, so I cannot open by my own.”
Duong’s food will feel similar if you dined at Ana Mandara, but updated. “My cooking is more high tech now. I learned from my students in Vietnam,” he told Eater SF. “I use sous vide. At Ana Mandara, we did not know and focus on those things, so now I use more high tech.” He also uses less sauces, employing them just as complements, since, as he put it, Vietnamese food can be “soggy.”
The ten-course, $95 tasting menu he created instead includes dishes such as fresh seaweed salad, using seaweed shipped in from Vietnam, with onion, mint, shallot, chili dressing, and chopped peanuts, as well as smoked beef tartare with plantain, onion, coriander, and tamarind. You can see the full menu here.
Khai opens tonight at 655 Townsend St., and will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., for two nightly seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Reservations available here.