The second installment of chef Luke Vu’s pop-up food series invades downtown restaurant Betty with an artist-bent menu

Luke Vu: Bro …

There are few instances when a text message of this caliber hasn’t led to an unforgettable, typically debaucherous evening. Despite it being Monday night, chef Luke Vu’s text message to me led to an evening of sexy turpitude, one of the culinary variety.

Vu’s ongoing food project Archive Chives hosted a menu-takeover pop-up at LES restaurhaunt Betty. Titled Keeping Me Preserved, Vu presented a seven-item menu heavily based in Vietnamese cuisine, including a bespoke dessert from noted confectionary master Marisa Nakamura. In the same way fashion designers name their collections, Vu names his menus how an artist would a series of paintings, a clear reference to the ‘archive’ part of the project title. Built on the natural spirit of camaraderie in a kitchen, The Archive Chives team’s back of house was assembled from the finest under-30 food people who’ve been cooking since before The Bear, with a front of house carefully selected from the friendly local hotties you’ve most certainly bummed a lighter from at one point.

The shrimp heads were crispy, the dumpling broth was steamy, and most importantly, the heart of the menu beat in every dish. To pick the “best” items would be a bit of a Sophie’s Choice (1982), but major standouts were the larger plates: the Shrimp and Grits Toastie and Tongue-in-Cheek Bánh Mi. The first to come out was the bánh mi, whose title alluded to the tender beef tongue found in the center, along with the usual accouterments: mint, cucumber, mayo, and perfectly pickled daikon and carrot. Served “au pho,” as Vu put it, the stuffed baguettes came with a rich and beefy jus for dipping or, alternatively, sipping (my best friend and dinner partner Gaby and I dipped our spoons in a few times to really dive into the flavor). The Shrimp and Grits Toastie is a play on Vu’s Instagram handle, and a wonderful reimagining of a traditional Southern dish that pays proper homage to his Arkansas roots. Fragrant squares of fried coconut grits surround a tôm rim (Vietnamese caramelized shrimp), plated in four little cubes like mini sandwiches, over a spicy, herby salsa verde for flavor balance. After being waited on and cheek-kissed by dear friend and notorious DJ about town James Hill (fka Contractor), chef Nakamura—as it were, a remarkable dessert chef as well as Hill’s romantic foil—delivered a tiny citrus palette cleanser as well as her pandan, coconut, and lime crème brûlées. The sugar was crispy, the coconut fresh, and the custard well-seasoned: what makes the chef’s desserts so special, apart from their inventiveness, is their balance with all seven elements of taste.

Vu’s second Archive Chives restaurant takeover was a wild success, as seen by the smiles and empty plates on every full table at Betty. Eager for more yet overwhelmingly satisfied, Gaby and I tumbled into an Uber back to Brooklyn: unlike a lot of the other patrons, we had to be up for work the next morning. As we drove away, I heard a group of 20-somethings sharing a digestif cigarette make the same declaration that I initially received in text: Bro …