Vince Nguyen gave up the dream of becoming a pediatrician when he discovered his talent for cooking. For his first job, at age 21, he jumped right into the fire of a demanding two-Michelin star kitchen in Los Angeles. It was a small job, but he was hooked on thoughtful ambition. His chef creds include San Francisco’s famed Coi, Portland’s Castagna, and his Portland pop-up Joile Laide. Now, at age 32, he’s finally getting a little place to call his own: Berlu, all 450 square feet of it, will open at 6:30 p.m. on June 13, at 605 SE Belmont St, on the ground floor of the new Modera Belmont apartment building (if Portland’s inspection gods are kind.)
The game plan includes a modern tasting menu, ($80 per person, without gratuity), an intimate clime of sheer curtains and eggshell colors, plus wines curated by Castagna’s somm ace Brent Braun. Hardcore locavorism will be front and center. Suffice it to say, no one thinks more about the inner workings of an artichoke than Nguyen.
Berlu (bear-loo), the French word for an eccentric person, will sit next to one of the year’s most anticipated openings, Hat Yai 2.0—an offshoot of Killingworth’s popular Southern Thai curry/fried chicken joint from Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom and Alan Akwai. Ninsom, who is Berlu’s landlord and Nguyen’s biggest supporter, says he hopes to open in early June, but is also waiting on final inspection after months of delays.
The first menu looks like prime Nguyen: unexpected. The working list runs from “snacks” to a pair of “plated courses” to squid cooked two ways (the tubes cooked in charcoal stock, the tentacles in smoky pork escabeche with strawberries, fava beans and marigold). Among the unusual desserts are “almond milk dumplings flavored with roasted garlic and fermented honey” and a salad dressed with rose and rhubarb curd.
When pressed, Nguyen says he’s most excited about his savory course: organic Hillsboro-grown chicken served seven ways, each showcasing a different part of the bird, skin to heart, grilled to confited, flavored with things like lime leaf or nasturtium, and accompanied by maitake mushrooms cooked in sour beer and hakurei turnips.
The biggest surprise might be the David Bowie bathroom wallpaper, a stark contrast to the rest of Berlu. “It represents an eccentric side of me that few people see,” he says, “but also a relentless need to push and grow. Bowie continuously reinvented himself, never resting on his laurels. That’s what I admire most.”
Berlu is reservations only, will have one seating to start (a second seating is expected this summer): https://www.exploretock.com/berlupdx