Chalk it up to a serendipitous encounter a few years ago for bringing New York–based Monsieur Vo and Los Angeles–based Camphor together. The two critically acclaimed restaurants teamed up this fall for a collaborative dinner that was filled with stylish food lovers enjoying a beautiful confluence of French and Vietnamese cuisines.
Monsieur Vo, an elegant Vietnamese restaurant specializing in meat and seafood, opened last year by husband and wife team Chef Jimmy Ly and Yen Vo. The menu highlights Vietnam’s ăn nhậu culture, which refers to the tradition of uniting over savory foods and abundant drinks. Their sister restaurant, Madame Vo, opened in New York’s East Village, just a few blocks north, five years earlier.
Camphor, a modern French bistro with a Michelin star, is located in DTLA. Co-owner Sarah Lam, along with Cyrus Batchan of No.8 Hospitality and their Co-Executive Chefs Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George, helm the Arts District restaurant. The unpretentious menu is a clever nod to the two chefs Southeast and South Asian heritage, all while be rooted in classical French cooking.
The amalgamation of flavors and techniques is precisely what made this collaborative dinner so exciting.
Benjamin Liong Setiawan: How do you believe your work complements each other?
Camphor: The harmony between Vietnamese and French flavor profiles is remarkable, particularly as Vietnamese cuisine had a significant impact on Sarah’s upbringing, given her family’s Vietnamese heritage. Also, this partnership serves as a means to support “mom and pop” restaurants.
Monsieur Vo: French and Vietnamese cuisines are inextricably linked based on their shared history. The techniques used are similar, and the French introduced new ingredients during their occupation of Vietnam (and likely vice versa), but the resulting flavor profiles are distinct. The collaboration between Camphor and Monsieur Vo felt very organic for this reason. There was a natural synergy in the kitchen, and we also both learned a lot from each other.
BLS: How did you plan the menu?
Both teams crafted dishes that harmonized with each other for each course, with the dessert being a collaborative effort. The chefs prepared frozen coconut water ice, adorned with coconut cardamom syrup, poached kiwi, kiwi gelée, coconut milk jelly, and a touch of refreshing mint. Additionally, the teams collaborated on a pâté for the gift bag that was given to each guest.
BLS: How did these dishes compare and contrast with items currently featured on your respective menus?
Camphor: The French onion tart amuse offered a playful nod to Camphor’s French Onion Soup. The Starter Seabream Crudo shared striking similarities with its counterpart at Camphor. As for the main course, the Red Snapper with grenobloise sauce, typically used on the Dover Sole at Camphor, introduced a delightful twist with the inclusion of Thai Basil, setting it apart from the usual offerings.
Monsieur Vo: The beef in betel leaf was the only dish served that is on our regular menu as part of our Monsieur platter, but we elevated it by using wagyu ground beef, and we adjusted the flavor profile to complement the evening’s menu. Overall, our presentation was a bit more refined to match the work of a restaurant of Camphor’s caliber. The patê sô and short rib bo kho were heavily influenced by French cooking, so we wanted them to co-exist together with the Camphor dishes.
BLS: Are there plans for future collaborations on the horizon?
Camphor: The idea of future collaborations is currently under discussion, with a focus on potentially incorporating more casual, small bites into the mix.
Monsieur Vo: There’s also an exciting possibility of our team coming to Los Angeles, although no specific dates have been confirmed as of now.
BLS: What restaurants or cuisines would you like to partner with?
Monsieur Vo: Chef Jimmy is a Queens native. We love the idea of partnering with iconic NYC institutions such as Clinton St. Baking Co. for a Vietnamese brunch menu, or Shake Shack.
BLS: Is there a particular dish from the collaborative menu that stands out as your favorite?
Sarah Lam: I have two favorites, actually – the Red Snapper and the Bo Kho Vietnamese beef stew served with thick rice noodles.
Jimmy Ly: My personal favorite was the dessert that was truly a collaborative item and really encapsulated the vibe of the event.
BLS: What are some of your favorites from your current menu?
SL: At Camphor my go-to order usually includes the Beef Tartare, followed by the French Onion Tartine, Scallop, Dover Sole, and rounding it off with Marzipan for dessert.
JL: At Monsieur Vo, it would be our pho ga kho (dry chicken pho). This dish isn’t available anywhere else in the city. It’s primarily a comfort dish we make at home. I just love it so much that I had to put it on the menu.
BLS: What can guests anticipate for the upcoming season?
Camphor: We introduced a new monthly tradition — Steak Frites Night — taking place every second Wednesday. The restaurant temporarily switches out its regular menu to feature this classic bistro dinner, complete with an 8oz steak, a generous serving of golden-brown frites, and a fresh salad for $65. Additionally, keep an eye out for our special prix fixe menu coming soon to ring in the New Year!
Monsieur Vo: We are working on some exciting new additions to the menu. We’re always striving to create dishes that bring new experiences for our diners. A couple we’ve been tinkering with are a Vietnamese hot pot and a dry pho xao with fried chicken. We also have a Madame Vo cookbook releasing next year!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Find Benjamin Liong Setiawan on Instagram: @hungryeditor.