Lan Tran, owner of midtown Asian restaurant Rice Paper, is opening Bonjour Vietnam at the end of September in the Hotel San Carlos at Central Avenue and Monroe Street, which previously housed a cafe called Bistro 202.
Tran came up with the idea of combining French and Vietnamese cuisine because the hotel requires its restaurants to serve breakfast.
“Unfortunately, we Asians don’t eat a lot of breakfast,” Tran said, laughing. “So I said, ‘Well we were invaded by the French in the 1900s, so why not do a French-Vietnamese restaurant where we can do both?’ The French eat breakfast, and I came up with the concept from there.”
Tran is hoping to keep the restaurant open seven days a week for all three meals.
“We will work out the kinks until we know exactly what our clientele is,” Tran said. “We don’t know what days are crazy what days are steady. You never know in the restaurant business.”
Rice Paper co-manager and bartender Alan Khoutakoun said most people associate Vietnamese and Thai restaurants as being closed for lunch, and he’s excited to offer all three courses.
Bistro 202 was the latest in a string of failed restaurants to occupy the space.
“Bistro 202 was a little more casual, where I think what we have is a little more of an approachable upscale,” Khoutakoun said. “When I think of staying at a hotel, I don’t think about wanting to eat a burger or fries, I want a good meal.”
Khoutakoun said he’s counting on curiosity to fuel business, as well as word-of-mouth recommendations from established customers at Rice Paper, as well as Saigon Kitchen, managed by Tran’s sister in Surprise.
A little less than half of Rice Paper’s menu will be carried over to Bonjour Vietnam, including pho, noodle soups and their most popular entrée, shaking beef. French influences will mostly be seen in breakfast items.
“A lot of Asian cuisine doesn’t have a lot of breakfast food,” Khoutakoun said. “It’s usually fruit or other small little things that wouldn’t be filling for a normal American appetite. So we’ll be having savory crepes, which are definitely French staples, for breakfast.”
Khoutakoun said Bonjour Vietnam will also be offering ban xeo for breakfast, and explained it as a “kind of homage to the French crepe but more Vietnamese.”
“Since Vietnam was a French colony in the 1900s, I think ban xeo came around just around that time,” Khoutakoun said. “It’s more of an egg crepe, and it’s filled with bean sprouts, pork and other vegetables, like basil. We’ll be playing around with the fillings.”
French cuisine will not be absent from the lunch and dinner menu as the owners are already considering to add more French dressing and veal, pate and duck confit dishes.
With a cocktail license currently being solidified, Khoutakoun said to expect a nice mix of drinks from both areas of focus, such as French wines and fruit-infused vodka.
The restaurant won’t be much larger than Rice Paper, which is located in a renovated bungalow off of Seventh Street and Alvarado Road and opened last year. Khoutakoun said to expect a cozy atmosphere, with extra seating along the patio that wraps around the hotel.
“It’ll be colonial, almost like walking into a cottage, but a little modern,” Khoutakoun said. “Everything will be nice and clean. I think our colors will be orange and red, just to kind of darken it up a little bit.”
The restaurant will also feature pictures of rural Vietnam, and French phrases along the bar, and rice patty hats hanging from the ceiling.
The downtown community’s curiosity about the historic Hotel San Carlos will hopefully draw in business, Khoutakoun said.
Tran was introduced to Bonjour Vietnam’s location by Rice Paper’s landlord, whose father owns The Hotel San Carlos.
Bonjour Vietnam will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the breakfast menu available until 11 a.m.
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