Madame Vo chef Jimmy Ly and his wife and co-owner, Yen Vo, have always approached Vietnamese cooking through their own personal lens — drawing from Ly’s childhood here in Queens, and Vo’s in Long Beach, Miss., on the Gulf Coast. At Madame Vo, which they opened in 2017, they pay tribute to their mothers, aunties, and grandmothers, sharing the family cooking traditions that have been passed down through generations.
Now, they’re turning their perspective to the fathers, uncles, and grandfathers in their lives with the opening of Monsieur Vo. Where Madame Vo is all about comfort foods like phở, Monsieur Vo is all about the foods you want to eat when you’re drinking — known in Vietnamese as ăn nhậu — and simply having a good time.
“Our dads could throw down in the kitchen and they would make dishes that are outside of the box,” Ly says. “Our entire menu is everything I remembered from my dad while he was eating and drinking with his friends.”
That means you can expect dishes that are highly shareable and snackable, but also decadent. Many dishes riff on existing Vietnamese classics, and upend conventions: Soups are transformed into salads, soupless pastas, or even a massive showstopper of an entree, meant to be shared with a crew.
And there will be drinks to match, like a sake cocktail featuring Coco Rico, a coconut soda that Vo’s mom would often use to braise pork. Paris by Night, a longstanding Vietnamese variety show that first gained popularity in the ‘80s with Vietnamese diaspora communities around the world, inspired the drinks menu. “Growing up, our dad used to love watching Paris by Night, so we made all the cocktails based off their favorite songs.” (Note: For now, they’re serving a menu of beer, wine, and sake until their full liquor license arrives.)
Similarly, the décor was inspired by dad, too. “I wanted it to be very loud,” Ly says. “My dad is very eccentric. He always does his hair with hairspray, and he loves the finer things in life … It’s like a representation of my dad’s personality, and he’s just a little bit extra,” Ly laughs.
Monsieur Vo replaces Madame Vo BBQ, the barbecue restaurant that the couple opened in 2018, which specialized in bò 7 món, a seven-course feast of beef that’s rare to find in New York — and unfortunately never quite managed to catch on. “It was a little bit ahead of its time,” says Ly. “A lot of people loved it, and a lot of people just didn’t understand it. It got lost in translation.” Adds Vo, “There was a definite learning curve.”
But that hasn’t stopped them from wanting to continue to push boundaries, and to continue to play a role in a growing Vietnamese American community here in New York, says Ly. Here’s a closer look at how they’re doing just that, in five dishes, and in Ly and Vo’s own words.
1. Banh Mi Board
“The banh mi board is kind of like how you grew up with your parents,” Vo says to Ly. “You always had a sandwich and homemade pate and mayo at home.”
“Yes, this was just always available for me at my house. Here, we’re using a Vietnamese ham called chả lụa, and my dad would always spice that up with sriracha all the time while watching TV with his homies. It was one of the things that we had every week at our house. So I wanted to do a banh mi board where we feature this French bread from the bakery across the street, Le Fournil — their French bread is amazing — and present all the components of a banh mi on a charcuterie board. It comes with a side of our housemade mayonnaise and pate, and it comes with pickled carrots, cucumbers, and green daikon on the side, topped off with a little bit of black pepper. And then it comes with a small bottle of Maggi.”
2. Canh Chua Salad
“Every time my mom’s like, ‘What do you want to eat?’ we always say, “canh chua” so we created an heirloom tomato salad of out it,” says Vo.
“It’s basically a Vietnamese tamarind soup with catfish or shrimp,” Ly explains, “but we’ve transformed it into a salad. The reason why we did this was because you don’t want to be drinking and eating soup, right? But our parents would always tell us to eat fruits and vegetables all the time. So I thought, all right, well, this soup is one of my favorite dishes, so let me try to turn this into a salad. And we came up with this, which is our salad made with grilled pineapple, tomato, elephant ears with some herbs and we top it off with a tamarind dressing. And it tastes just like the soup, but in a salad form.”
3. Phở Gà Khô
“You know how chicken soup or chicken phở is the cure for hangovers, right?” Ly says. “Every time you eat chicken soup or chicken phở, it’s like a remedy. So, I was just like, all right, let’s make this fun; I wanted to do it dry and soupless, like a pasta dish.
“Phở is so important in our home and our tradition and Vietnamese food is known for phở. So let’s do a dry-style. I’ve had this in numerous [Vietnamese] restaurants outside of New York, but no one here has done it yet, so I wanted to push the envelope here as a chef for this.
“It’s fresh rice noodles, like the ones you have with phở, and it comes with a special sauce that we developed that is very, very important. I wanted you to eat this and think phở. It has notes of star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, all those phở flavors, and I made it into this thick gravy sauce with shallots and onions to just really bring it up, and it’s served with chicken thighs and all the other parts of the chicken — the liver, the gizzard — and it’s topped off with fried chicken skin. And then you’ve got herbs like basil, culantro, cilantro, and bean sprouts, red onions, and shallots and peppers.
“There are so many components to this dish. But we never want to stray away from what we want to tell here. When you eat it, you’re expecting to eat soup phở, but this going to throw you off in a good way.”
4. BBH Beef Shank
“I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of this, but it’s a beef shank that’s standing on a plate with a huge bone marrow coming out of it,” says Ly. “It looks like something from the Flintstones. This is basically paying homage to bún bò Huế , which is probably our second-best selling dish from Madame Vo and probably the second-most famous Vietnamese dish after phở.
“Again, I didn’t want to make soup [like we already serve at Madame Vo] and I wanted to think outside the box. And in Vietnamese history and culture, like in any drinking culture, eating meat is just so dominant, so I wanted a dish that really represents Monsieur Vo, and so this is it: It’s a whole beef shank marinated in a bún bò Huế base for 24 hours, and then it gets roasted and finished on the grill. And it’s brushed with fermented shrimp butter and topped off with our bún bò Huế sauce for finishing. It’s just super tender and it falls off the bone.
“On average, I think it could feed about four to six people. You’ll have to mention that you want to order it when you make a reservation because we’re only making about eight of these a day. It takes us 24 hours to prepare this dish.”
5. Lemongrass Fish
“I was testing around with catfish for this dish at first, and my dad was like, ‘Why are you using catfish? You should be using sea bass,’” Ly says. “So, it’s a three- to four-pound sea bass — everything’s like pretty grand and we wanted to be as extra as possible — so it’s deep fried and then just marked on the grill. And it gets brushed with honey butter and then topped off with some scallion oil, crushed peanuts, crispy salad, and lemongrass, and different types of chile peppers. We serve it with rice paper, anchovy sauce, and lettuce and herbs — so you just make your own wraps with the fish.
“It’s like going back to celebrating and having a good time, and what I love about this dish is how interactive it is.”
Monsieur Vo is open daily, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 5:30 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.