Everytime that I walked into Duck and Dumpling, I went straight for the bar. Downtown Raleigh was mostly a ghost town and 'The Duck', as lots of folks called it, had one of the nicest bars in the area. It was casual, the bartenders were friendly and knowledgable. The bar food was great, especially for the price. There were high top bar tables and a nice wooden bar spanned most of the shotgun restaurant space.
On the other side of the high-top tables was a glass wall that separated the bar area from the rest of the restaurant, which was a white tablecloth setting. As many times as I went to 'The Duck', I think I only sat on the other side of the glass wall once, for a friend's birthday gathering. Maybe it was my age (late-twenties at the time) or maybe it was that the space felt too fancy for what Downtown Raleigh really was at the time. Regardless of which one, 'The Duck' stayed as long as it could, encubating a great bar scene as well as a high price, special occasion restaurant. Unfortunately, in December of 2010, The Duck closed its doors and David moved up on Hillsborough Street and seems to be doing great in the new location.
A few months after closing, we announced that Fai Thai would replace Duck and Dumpling. Fai Thai had great bar setting, with great drinks and bartenders, and a slightly less upscale atmosphere. Sadly, the space remained the same, which didn't add a much needed layer of comfort left empty by Duck's departure. Four months later, Fai Thai closed as well. Then, Empire Eats was going to use the space for catering, which seemed like a waste. Luckily, Empire bought another building and have decided to use that instead.
The former Duck space sat empty for almost a year before Vansana Nolintha announced that he would be opening Bida Manda, one of the first Laotian restaurants in the United States on Blount Street. We were excited and per our conversation with him, Vansana was too.
To me, the biggest issue facing that space has always been the lack of comfortable interior. Sandwiched between the gritty alley music venue that is The Pour House and the rowdy, yet still family friendly, Tir Na Nog wasn't the best location for a white table cloth restaurant setting. I think Van had the same idea and over the past four months, in situ studio and Van have worked together to create a very beautiful, yet comfortable space that transforms the definition of interior design for the Downtown Raleigh restaurant scene.
Scroll down to the bottom for full gallery of images - rendering by in situ studio
This is the first resaturant for in situ studio (Matthew Griffith and Erin Sterling-Lewis who left Frank Harmon's office to form their own and were very instrumental in the design of the AIA-NC Headquarters) and they decided to add their contemporary touch to the space, while letting Van give it a feeling of home.
The space is still divided, but it a much nicer way with a wooden wall with vertical windows cut to allow viewing from the dining side to the bar area. Natural wood sticks, harvested from the North Carolina mountains, wrap the ceiling and walls to create a feeling of nature and a beautiful texture to a space that used to be much more stale. Van enlisted the help of a bunch of his friends and family to help put up the sticks (as seen in the photo below in the gallery). Graphics and photos of Laotian family members and landscapes add a nice color layer to the minimal backdrop of the bricks and sticks. The space feels comfortable, yet metropolitan and edgy.
Scroll down to the bottom for full gallery of images
As if the interior wasn't nice enough, the food of Bida Manda will be the main attraction. From sausage stuffed peppers, to sticky rice, flank steak, spicy Laotian wings and a bunch of other dishes that are sure to be a hit for the continually bustling downtown restaurant scene. From Van's own recipes, to his mother's and some from his chef, the layers of flavor and unique dishes are excellent. The portions are great and the prices are very reasonable. I also had a chance to peek at the cocktail menu, which is being curated by Jordan Hester (formerly at Fai Thai, Foundation and Fox Liqour Bar) and it looks quite appetizing as well.
Vansana's love for food, family and friends is very evident. Van's chef, Lon Bounsanga, is from Laos as well. A big man, also with a soft heart and a huge desire for cooking. You can just tell by the way food is plated, presented and flavored. The two of them seem to have a great vibe and relationship that culminates in a great product.
Bida Manda is very close to opening and we look forward to what will be one of the best new restaurant spaces and unique food options to hit Downtown Raleigh in years.
You can view more photos of the space below in our gallery.