Chau Dang, whose family owns the successful Vietnamese restaurant group, Brodard, in Orange County, attracts Newport Beach diners with creative fusion cuisine at Bamboo Bistro.
By Quyen Dô
It’s a typical Thursday afternoon at Bamboo Bistro, a charming Vietnamese restaurant nestled on the corner of a residential street in Corona del Mar. A short queue forms as guests wait to be seated in the packed eatery with hanging bamboo lamps, gold Asian-themed art, slate floors and large windows that flood the room with sunlight.
Chau Dang, the chef-owner, has been in the kitchen creating some new dishes for fall and she’s excited about a new seafood rice dish. “Our diners are sophisticated. They want flavor, but healthy dishes to complement their beach lifestyle,” says Dang, a Newport Beach resident since 2010.
As a licensed dietician and mom of two sons, Jack, 13, and Preston, 11, health and nutrition have been the guiding principles of her food. In addition to her own creations, Dang offers some dishes from her family’s two other restaurants: Brodard Chateau, managed by her sister, Lisa, in Garden Grove, and Brodard restaurant and bakery, overseen by her mother, Diane, in Fountain Valley. The result is a menu with more than 100 beguiling items, from Vietnamese and Thai classics to fusion dishes from different Asian cultures, all with a “Newport Beach twist” that sings of healthy cuisine.
The house special chicken noodle soup, or “pho ga,” is the ultimate fall comfort food: steamed chicken breast and rice noodles are added to a base of pure bone broth infused with ginger and onion. Meanwhile, the buttery morsels of Chilean sea bass in spicy red curry sauce with grilled eggplant and mushroom melts in your mouth. The shining star is the eatery’s famous Brodard grilled pork “nem nuong” spring rolls, filled with fresh herbs and wrapped in rice paper with a special house dipping sauce. The Brodard restaurants and Bamboo Bistro together sell more than 10,000 of these wildly popular rolls every day. At Bamboo Bistro, Dang puts a healthy spin on these rolls with fillings such as seared ahi tuna, tender roasted duck, soft shell crab and vegetarian rolls.
Dang grew up in an affluent family with her own nanny in the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam. Her mother, Diane, was the heir to her family’s popular boulangeries called Hoa Binh. Their idyllic lives abruptly ended when the communists took control of Vietnam in 1975.
The family immigrated to California in 1989, and her father, Thuong Dang, worked for a small bakery in Westminster’s Little Saigon. By 1992, they saved enough money to open an eatery, but her father suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1996. They nearly went bankrupt until Diane stepped in, used her family’s recipes and transformed the struggling Brodard eatery into one of the most successful family-owned restaurants in OC.
This led to Bamboo Bistro, which Dang opened more than two decades ago. Dang reminisces that when she first saw the 2,000-square-foot bistro, it was “so adorable” and she bought it with all her savings in 2001. Within six months, the air conditioning broke, the plumbing failed and it became a nightmare. But undaunted and inspired by her mother, Dang forged ahead and turned an unknown eatery into a place buzzing with diners.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, she swiftly pivoted to a fully takeout operation, a system they already had in place from years of phone orders. Once indoor dining rooms were allowed to reopen, it was like a reunion with regular customers. “I’m just grateful to see everyone again,” she says.
Read on to learn more about Bamboo Bistro, Dang’s family and some of their favorite places in Newport Beach.
When you first opened Bamboo Bistro, were there many Vietnamese or Asian restaurants in the city? How did you attract diners?
Chau Dang: There was only one Thai restaurant a few blocks south from us. I was so excited to have the opportunity to introduce our Vietnamese cooking, which is quite healthy with an array of fresh herbs and vegetables and unique spices. I thought it was a right fit in this coastal community. In 2000, Thai cuisine was on trend, so we created our menu with Vietnamese dishes and popular Thai dishes to bring customers to our door.
Was your mom involved in Bamboo Bistro when you first opened the restaurant, and is she still involved today?
CD: My mom helped me tremendously for the first year. She was my mentor and supporter financially and emotionally. She shared many delicious recipes that are still on our menu today such as sizzling sole, Hanoi-style pork vermicelli and sole noodle soup. I still check in with my mom and my sister, Lisa Dang, and ask for their input to this day.
What do you love about Newport Beach?
CD: I love my neighborhood surrounded by wonderful, kind neighbors. I love my clients who are very loyal and supportive. l love the neighborhood schools for our sons, Jack and Preston. The weather is so desirable here and the neighborhood is surrounded with many wonderful, local ethnic restaurants.
What are some similarities between Newport Beach and the coastal town, Nha Trang, where you grew up?
CD: I was born in a small beach town surrounded with kind and genuine people. Nha Trang is known for fresh seafood, therefore I became a seafood lover when I was a child. Here in Newport Beach, I often walk with a group of my friends to the Newport Pier to buy fresh seafood and cook for family and friends. It reminds me of my childhood.
If you knew back then what you know now about the restaurant business, would you still open an eatery today?
CD: Yes. I love the dynamic and energy of the restaurant industry. I love the creativity of my role, being able to create new dishes [and] incorporating a trendy ingredient to our Vietnamese cooking technique. I love interacting with my customers.