EAST VILLAGE — A new Vietnamese restaurant at a former underground concert venue and recording studio is paying homage to its musical roots, playing used vinyl records from local shops and inviting diners to bring their own selections for a spin.
Chao Chao on Wednesday officially opened its doors at 171 Avenue A, once home to illegal club 171A, as well as Rat Cage Records, a recording studio for legendary artists such as the Beastie Boys and Black Flag.
Owner and chef Stephan Brezinsky said he wanted to keep the space's punk-rock past alive at his Vietnamese eatery, as well as pay tribute to his own fond memories of going to concerts while growing up in the neighborhood, and decided to give vinyl a starring role in his new restaurant.
"We thought it would be really cool to pay homage both to the musical roots of myself and the space together, and we thought, what better ways to do that than get a record player?" said Brezinsky.
Brezinsky browsed local record stores such as A-1 Records on East Sixth Street for the bulk of the collection, which holds classic rock from the 1960s and '70s as well as selections in line with the space's past such as the Beastie Boys, while also gathering donations. Diners are encouraged to bring their own vinyl from home to play on the eatery's turntable.
"We also love that it's kind of interactive," he said. "Guests can choose their own record and bring in their own records. And a lot of people came in and donated records, so it has really evolved."
The menu offers contemporary, home-style Vietnamese cooking inspired by Brezinsky's mother's kitchen, and boasts fresh ingredients and plenty of spice.
Guests can snack on light, colorful raw dishes such as the "Cauliflower Three Ways" with pickled, fried, and raw cauliflower tossed with shredded granny smith apples, chardonnay vinaigrette and fried garbanzo beans.
Heartier options from the wok menu include a "Thit Kho" with braised pork shoulder and belly, caramel fish sauce, pickled soy egg and Asian long beans.
The food is paired with craft cocktails, including a super-sized cocktail called the "Foreign Legion" meant to be shared among up to four guests — the drink is made with Dubonnet, carbonated sake, ginger, orange, lemon, and Tomr's tonic.