Interview Samantha Bartoletti
Photography Courtesy of An Nguyen Xuan

An’s The Man and BK’s OK

French-Vietnamese chef An Nguyen Xuan has been living in New York for the past 13 years. After spending eight of them working in banking he wanted to do something more creative and, after regularly cooking for friends and family, he decided to open a pop-up restaurant. He now runs Bêp, a Vietnamese restaurant in Williamsburg.

(This piece was featured in our AW16 magazine - January 2016)
So, An, where do you live in and why?

I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It used to be really industrial, but over the past decade it’s gone through a huge development and is now gentrified. But it has great stores, restaurants and coffee shops – a lot of coffee shops. I love the neighborhood because it is like a village in NYC. It’s just one stop to Manhattan, but the pace is quite mellow. It’s so different from Midtown and the Financial District where I used to work. I love to walk by the river and look at the view on Manhattan. It’s a total cliché, but you can’t beat the view of Manhattan from Williamsburg. 

What the idea behind Bêp and what makes it different from other eateries out there?

Bêp shares a space with Simple Café: They serve breakfast and lunch all week, as well as a killer brunch on weekends, and we’re open every night from Monday to Friday. So it’s two restaurants in one space. We also just opened a small shop in the space where we sell flowers, ceramics and chocolate bars from our Vietnamese friends at Marou Chocolats. At Bêp we serve traditional Vietnamese cuisine; we want to share the Vietnam experience in a very casual setting. We could serve you a bowl of phở (Vietnamese noodle soup), bò bún (bowl of cold vermicelli) or bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches), but we could also give you a taste of Vietnam’s terroirs with our Vietnamese coffee or Marou Chocolats. 

When did you open?

I opened Bêp in 2009 as a pop-up. We were open once a week, every Monday for six months. Then step by step, we opened more days to become what it is today! Vietnamese cuisine was hard to find in Brooklyn back then and people in Williamsburg were hungry for something new. So the opportunity was there and I took it. 

How did you pick the neighborhood?

Williamsburg picked me! Simple Café was closed on Mondays and it is three blocks away from my home. I saw it was closed and asked the owner, Sammy, who’s now my business partner, if she was cool with me doing a pop-up there, and she said yes. 

What’s your specialty?

Every day I make different specials. People really love my Bêp Vietnamese-style chicken wings. Someone even called me Lord of the Wings! 

What is your motto?

Make sure my wife is happy, my staff are happy, and they will get my back! 

Where do you grab breakfast in your ’hood?

For a quick breakfast, try Northerly at 181 Havemeyer Street. A very good breakfast burrito and very good coffee. Ask manager Julien to make you a caffè con panna or a matcha latte. For a longer breakfast I like to go to Egg at 109 North Third Street: great French toast and any style of eggs, obviously. It’s better to go in the week, because weekends are too busy.

Northerly 181 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn +1 718-388-1101
Egg 109 North Third Street
Where do you go for a fancy lunch?

It could be fancy, but it is always better when it is a good deal! So here are some places to go for lunch à petit prix. In Williamsburg, there’s Peter Luger Steak House (178 Broadway) for amazing steaks and a $9 burger. Aurora (70 Grand Street) is a great place for a nice al fresco lunch in the garden, and it has a $17 menu. If you’re in Manhattan, try Soba-ya in the East Village (229 East Ninth Street) for its fantastic soba and a $21 lunch box. For a classic French lunch, try Le Relais de Venise – L’Entrecôte (590 Lexington Avenue) in Midtown: steak frites and salad for $28.75.

Peter Luger Steak House 178 Broadway, Williamsburg
Aurora 70 Grand Street
Soba-ya 229 East Ninth Street, Manhattan
L'Entrecôte 590 Lexington Avenue, Midtown
Where do you grab a quick sandwich?

I go to Saltie (378 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn) or head over to Chinatown in Manhattan for a pork pancake at Spicy Village (68B Forsyth Street). 

Best pastry shop?

I rarely eat pastries in NYC because I was spoiled by growing up in Paris, but I sometimes go to Maison Kayser (eight locations in Manhattan).

Best food shopping?

Fairway. I love it, especially the one in Red Hook. 

Best place for drinks after work?

For a glass of wine, try Four Horsemen (295 Grand Street), James Murphy’s new gig,three blocks from Bêp.For cocktails, there’s Maison Première (298 Bedford Avenue), two blocks from Bêp.

Four Horsemen 295 Grand Street
Where would you take somebody for a cozy dinner?

Semilla (160 Havemeyer Street), definitely. A vegetable- forward gastronomic restaurant run by Pam and José, who are doing a great job. One of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants around! Then there’s 1 or 8 (66 South Second Street), an amazing Japanese-French omakase from chef Kaizuo and a great wine selection by owner Shinji. 

Semilla 160 Havemeyer Street
Sunday brunch?

Sunday brunch in Manhattan and Brooklyn is so hectic and the wait is always two hours, so we go for Chinese dim-sum brunch at Dim Sum Go Go (5 East Broadway, Manhattan) or Golden Unicorn (18 East Broadway, Manhattan). Or we sneak in at Simple Café for a traditional brunch. 

Best neighborhood for bar-hopping until really late?

Chinatown and Lower East Side in Manhattan, and Williamsburg.

Midnight munchies? 4am burger

I love going to 1 or 8 on Friday or Saturday for its late-night, after-midnight menu at the bar. 

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