Eric Banh's original Vietnamese restaurant on 15th Avenue is back after a short construction-related hiatus. The restaurant has a new 800-square-foot addition and 40 new seats, a development which would ordinarily register as only mildly exciting. Except that Banh called in his exceptionally talented beverage director, Jon Christiansen, and turned him loose on creating a proper bar in the new space.
Christiansen is a guy who has frolicked (professionally speaking) with the Modernist Cuisine team and isn't afraid of incorporating pho broth into his bloody Marys. He approached the task of stocking liquor with, shall we say, considerable zeal. "My rule is 10 of each spirit," he says, though he definitely broke that rule with the gin. He spent six months amassing a collection that includes some advanced-age whiskeys and "more amari than any other Asian restaurant in the world."
Banh asked the barman to come up with a drink menu based on Chinese medicine and connected him with a Chinese medicine guy (presumably that's not his formal title) who supplied Christiansen with a whole host of herbs with aphrodisiac properties. They currently sit above the bar, infusing into two different high-proof spirits—one for men, one for women.
"I'm going to make a shiso herb-infused honey for the female one and call the shot She-So Honey!" enthuses Christiansen. His enthusiasm is genuine, but so is his smartass streak.
The entirety of the new space is considered the bar, and while Monsoon's full menu is available throughout, the happy hour menu only happens here, from 3 to 6, and again from 9 to midnight. He thinks the Uyeda cocktail, made with watermelon juice, lime, shochu, and sweet gomme syrup for texture, will be the big seller. His other new creations include a drink made with gin, muddled shiso, and a snap pea gomme syrup, or the spicier Sayulita—tequila infused with chilies and hibiscus, a housemade grenadine, lime and cilantro. Nonalcoholic drinks like a starfruit-tarragon shrub get the same high-intensity house treatment.
Now that the bar is in gear, Banh and his sister/business partner Sophie are devising a new menu section dedicated to chilled seafood: ceviche, chilled shrimp, razor clams with garlic, roasted peanuts and fish sauce, and oysters both on the half shell and in shooter form, both garnished with Vietnamese flavors.