New York's roster of fancified Vietnamese restaurants is growing, from Nightingale 9 in Carroll Gardens to Bún-Ker in Ridgewood and Falansai in North Brooklyn. They're a change-up—if not always successful—from the city's more casual restaurants, many of which in Chinatown, that hunker down with classic dishes like banh mi or pho.
Falansai offers both of those things, but plenty more with a sophisticated edge, and they do so in an equally classed-up setting that has plenty for vegetarians.
Hot tip for vegetarians and vegans alike: all of Falansai's dishes are made to order, so if you don't eat fish sauce, ask your waiter to leave it out. I started with the imposing-sounding Vegetarian Imperial Rolls ($6 for 4 rolls), super-crispy rice paper rolls that glistened with oil—they left a pool of it on the plate—but were crazy delicious nonetheless. The little pockets were stuffed with shredded cabbage, carrots and deeply-flavored mushrooms, as well as thin, slippery glass noodles; to eat, you pluck a leaf of mint, nestle it into a lettuce leaf along with your imperial roll, and dunk the whole thing into a dish of soy-based sauce. The rush of flavor and texture provided by this appetizer got us stoked for the rest of the meal.
We followed up with a very respectable Green Papaya Salad ($8), minus the shrimp but with some added chunks of crispy fried tofu thoughtfully provided by a server who took note of our veg-centric order. The crisp, bright salad hit some nice notes with crushed peanuts and sweet fried shallots, but I wished for some more acidity as well as more spice. Add some of the provided japalenos for heat.
Things really started looking up when the main courses arrived, beginning with a superb Pumpkin Curry ($11) that's light in texture and subtly perfumed with warming spices such as ginger and cinnamon, featuring just a touch of coconut milk—a far cry from the curry blend-heavy, sticky-sweet curries that are all too common at Asian places around town. The starchiness of hunks of carrot, kabocha squash and cassava was nicely broken up by chewy mushrooms, peppery scallions, and bits of mellow onion.
A vegan Pho Chay ($9) was filled to the brim with crisp bright-green vegetables, including okra, snap peas, and green beans, as well as mushrooms, some chunks of fried tofu, and, of course, long strands of yielding rice noodles. As a sometime-omnimore, I must tell you: it is really, really hard to create a satisfying meat-free pho, whose broth is traditionally based on a slow simmer of all manner of bones that yield deep, rich flavors. I've had some pretty wan meat-free broths in my day; luckily, Falansai's is not among them. Somewhat unluckily, the broth was a hair too sweet for my tastes, and I thought it needed some heat or sourness to round it out. But altogether, this was a warming, satisfying soup that was much appreciated on a cold day.