Bolero Brings Modern Vietnamese Design to Williamsburg

Liza Curtiss: For Matt, the chef, this is his first restaurant after working at a bunch of Michelin-starred places. He’s Vietnamese-American, and his dad has a farm in Pennsylvania where he grows all these heirloom Vietnamese herbs. He had such a specific drive and intention to create authentic food, he was very specific about not wanting things to be hyper-referential. He wanted it to be authentic.

AD PRO: Tell us a bit about the concrete wall at the entrance.

CK: Breeze blocks, unfortunately or fortunately, became really trendy in the last three years because they remind people of midcentury-modern houses. You can see them with a decorative interior in a lot of new builds. We wanted to use them because they’re really specific for Vietnam, but we didn’t want it to feel like an association with that trend.

AD PRO: What are some of the ways in which you stretched the tight budget?

LC: We were clever in looking at the raw space. The old restaurant that was here we had to gut, but we didn’t have the funds to build anything architecturally significant in this space. Corey designed this really beautiful metal drop-bar structure that creates a minimal element. Then, with the breeze blocks in the front, it gives directionality and a sense of visual interest.

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Simple, cost-effective materials are employed throughout to great effect.

Photo: Charlie Schuck

CK: Because we weren’t able to build anything, the kitchen and the gas lines and things all needed to stay the same. We opened the kitchen up completely, and elevated it with the shelving above and carbonate panels that are like a greenhouse material. We intentionally designed the lighting in that structure so it glows. At night, that’s where your eyes go when you first walk into the restaurant. That’s what elevates the cooking experience.

LC: We spent a lot more time on-site than I think was typical, because we knew that if things were installed poorly or were lower quality, then the execution and the finishing had to be really good. It was a lot more hands-on work than was maybe typical.

Project Details

Name: Bolero

Design Team: Le Whit (architecture and design), Metamechanics (architect of record)

Size: 1,000 square feet

Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Timeline: Six months

Biggest Challenge: “The budget was a challenge. We ended up being pretty scrappy,” says Curtiss.

Favorite item in the design: “The wood from the tables came from a neighbor of Matt’s dad on the farm in Pennsylvania,” says Kingston. “It was really fun making the lighting fixtures from mosquito nets. I’m really impressed with that whole metal structure.”

Biggest ticket item: “The fan at the front of the restaurant that’s made to kind of evoke Vietnam,” says Curtiss.

An idea you almost went with: “Rather than the floating shelving unit, it was going to be larger wooden beams. We decided to go with metal because it was more cost-effective,” says Kingston.

Most interesting thing you had on the project mood board: “Radial textile patterns like the baskets in Vietnam,” says Kingston.