DooWee & Rice – Somerville, Massachusetts

First Taste: Pho-get About It

Breakdancing is all about freestyling—intuitively reacting to music to create something interesting. With DooWee & Rice—which opened this month in the old East Asia space in Somerville—chef/owner Duy Tran is following a similar intuition. “My food is going to be pretty daring,” says Tran, 24. “I don’t really have a set theme or menu.” Tran believes this gives him an advantage over other area eateries—for with autonomy comes freedom.

Before training at Le Cordon Bleu in Cambridge and working as a personal chef in Chestnut Hill, Tran had little restaurant experience. But he was always cooking, often with his mom, and while spending nearly a decade traveling as a break-dancer, he created a mental archive of his favorite street food and hole-in-the-wall joints. “We’d find the best foods,” he says. “So I figured, why not take that and bring it all together and just have fun with it?” The result is a modest space consisting of an order-at-the-counter setup, with seats for 18.

Though the menu is primarily Vietnamese-inspired, Tran adds a twist to each dish, such as baked kale chips flavored with soy sauce and sesame seeds. The fries are twice cooked and served with sesame-chili aioli, and the burgers—ahem, bao-gers—are served on toasted bao buns and topped with anything from sliced apples and ginger-essence slaw to citrus Hunan marinade and crispy shallots. Tran might bathe fresh mussels in Szechuan butter and Cajun spices, steep them in broth or top them with crispy garlic and fried okra. “I like being in the kitchen,” says Tran, “moving around, testing out new things.”

One night each week will be devoted to doing just that. Every Wednesday, Tran screens a film (chosen by popular vote), during which he serves potential new items tapas-style alongside a survey that gauges their popularity. Successes will be added to the menu.

But it’s the pho that has his patrons—and his mom—most excited. Served solely on select Sundays, Tran uses a family recipe for the Vietnamese noodle soup, starting by braising the beef and brisket with all the bones, cartilage and marrow intact. Then he adds flame-roasted onions and spices before letting the pot simmer overnight. “I’m not being biased,” he says. “It’s the best.” Head to Somerville and find out for yourself.

DooWee & Rice 868 Broadway, Somerville (617-764-1906) dooweeandrice.com

This article originally appeared in the September 19, 2012, issue of The Improper Bostonian.