Home Cooking with Ha's Dac Biet
Anthony Ha is stood by the stove in the kitchen of his Brooklyn apartment, tending to a pot full of the sort of soup—sweet, sour and laden with white fish, tomato, dill and tamarind—that can sooth any ailment, tasting and tinkering as he goes. The cabinets are painted a soft yellow, stacked with antique china; a cluster of pans hang from hooks alongside dried chillies. Beside him, his fiancé and business partner, Sadie Mae Burns, arranges dishes and opens the wine (biodynamic, of course).
A skillet is loaded up with oil and eggs and spring onion, soon to be a perfect omelet. There’s aubergine caramelised with fish sauce, piles of white rice and a cabbage salad with radish and coriander. The little dining table soon overflows with plates and food and people.
“Do you think we’ve made enough?” says Burns, before the group erupts in laughter.
Ha and Burns are the couple behind Ha's Dac Biet, a roaming Vietnamese-American fusion supper club/pop-up restaurant/moveable feast that has become some of the most sought-after cooking in New York. The pair met back in 2015, working at the chef Danny Bowien’s buzzy restaurant, Mission Chinese Food.
“When we met, Anthony had just been promoted from kitchen porter to cook,” says Burns. “After that we moved around a bit. Anthony went to a high-end sushi place, I worked front of house and then back to the kitchen. We started doing a few private events and pop-ups on the side, anywhere people would have us. Then Covid happened and our restaurants shut down, so we focused on this full-time.”
The name is a play on Anthony’s last name and the Vietnamese word for a house special. “The first iteration was a little cart, like a bicycle with a box on the front to put ice cream in and all we could do was grilled pork,” says Ha, settling back in his chair, early winter sunshine pouring through the kitchen’s high window. "It was rooted in street food, bánh mì and noodles, anything we could do with the space that we had.”
People quickly took notice—they’ve received glowing reviews in the New Yorker and NY Mag among many others. During a period when diners were desperate for comfort and authenticity, Ha's Dac Biet was a balm. “I suppose you could call it fusion,” says Burns, “we grew up with French and Italian techniques, and it’s become a combination of all of those things.”
“The biggest compliment is that Vietnamese people say our food is nostalgic,” says Ha, who is Vietnamese-American and grew up over the water in New Jersey. “But it’s rooted in the restaurants we’ve both worked in. I think we can reclaim the word fusion!”
Part of a growing cadre of young and independent travelling chefs that can pack out a dining room, the couple have held residencies at Oranj in Shoreditch, along with Early June and Paul Bert in Paris. They both have plans to return to London later this year, a city that they say has readily embraced their cooking and easygoing enthusiasm. They’re the sort of people who invite four strangers over for lunch at their flat with no questions asked.
"We wanted to create the sort of restaurant that we want to work in,” says Burns. We’re now sat on chairs on the apartment block’s roof, an uninterrupted view of Manhattan off in the distance as dusk settles into a brilliant orange skyline. “We hire friends, we make it fun, we don’t want work to feel bad. It doesn’t have to be this pretentious, horrible thing. It’s not as stressful as everyone makes it seem. It’s really hard work, but it shouldn’t be stressful.”
“People get taught over generations that there’s only one way to run a restaurant,” adds Ha, lighting up a cigarette and pouring the last of the wine. “I think this generation is changing that. We’re just making food that we want to eat… and people seem to like it.”