Restaurant Review: Ba’s Vietnamese Comfort Food
Nestled into the heart of downtown Albany, Ba’s Vietnamese Comfort Food extends a light and bright invitation. Its outdoor seating — candy-apple red chairs and wooden tables — is interspersed with planters of bamboo, the kind that must be in the top of its percentile for height. Inside, Ba’s is balance defined; clean and clear lines are complemented with soft colors. A straight-forward menu is laden with deeply rich and layered flavors. The orders of operations are dialed in, while the exchanges with staff still feel personal. Ba’s is rooted in history, in family, in a cultivated, hard-wrought dream brought to life. This is felt instantly upon arrival and becomes beautifully solidified through thoughtful and truly satisfying dishes.
Opening its doors in the summer of 2019, Ba’s (which translates to Dad’s in Vietnamese) has relied on fresh ingredients, an emphasis on honoring family recipes, and a familial foundation on which the entire operation runs. It is a counter-service style restaurant, the overhead menu catching the eye upon first stepping through the door. The layout is cozy (it’s a fairly small room) without feeling cramped. In fact, the entire place hits a C-Major chord of airy, light, and easy. This could be due in part by the walls of dreamy pastel turquoise, or the magical lights of varying shades (in every sense of the word) hanging in the corner. One wall has remained its steadfast brick self, keeping the dreaminess rooted, keeping the magic within reach. (There’s that aforementioned balance, again.) While the place wasn’t bustling at maximum capacity when I visited on a Thursday afternoon, I can easily imagine that air of cool and calm being maintained through the dinner and weekend rushes. It’s a bit of an oasis in there.
The menu is varied, but not to the point of causing crippling indecision. With a few options for starters, entrees, and sides, it’s easy to choose your own adventure and expect a favorable outcome. On my premier visit, I ordered the Tofu Salad Rolls to start, which are paired with a peanut sauce. While I’m no stranger to the appetizer, Ba’s version tasted freshly polished. A sauce that is often found blended and creamy, here was closer to that of a silky glaze, one topped with crushed peanuts. It tasted like the moment when simplicity and elegance meet, but neither one suffocates the other (relationship goals). My headliner for the afternoon was the Gingered Chicken which comes laden over rice, and accompanied by house-made kimchi. Listen. I don’t normally make haste for chicken entrees when I’m out. It’s not like there’s bad blood, I’m just usually on a different page, living out a different life path. But all inner signals kept steering me towards the entree and if I can’t trust myself, then how far will I really make it in this world? Turns out my inner compass is clocking in just fine. The meat fell right off the bone with no protest, landing in a cloud of rice that had started to take on some of the namesake ginger sauce, one that alternated between sweet and savory with ease (ginger’s got range in spades). I took half of this meal home, then proceeded to wait around for three hours to get hungry again so that I could relive the initial experience. It was a full day.
Other key players on the menu include the traditional pho, which was seemingly being delivered to everyone around me; big steaming bowls of broth, rice noodles, meat of choice and all garnished with basil leaves and bean sprouts. It’s a big part of my ordering plan for next time. I was fortunate enough to have a taste of the house-made chicken bone broth, which was, with no exaggeration, liquid, shimmering gold. I’m looking forward to my next cold so that I can experience what it’s like to be cured on the spot. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ba’s diverse drink offerings. Boasting around ten non-alcoholic options, from a strawberry matcha latte to a traditional Vietnamese coffee, there’s a lot of fun to be had in sips. And it doesn’t stop there. Ba’s cocktail menu offers new takes on old classics (an Old Fashioned made with Pu-er bourbon) and a few originals using traditional flavors. I have a feeling the Lady Na Dang (a combination of rum, mango, mint, and lime) and I are going to have a really romantic summer together.
At a time when things seem to feel reliably chaotic, when the outside world hits harshly and doubles down, Ba’s is truly a contained paradise of calm. With rich menu offerings stemming from a rich history, this sweet little Albany restaurant is the year-round springtime our bodies and souls desperately need.