Tom Sietsema

SHIFTING GEARS: With the departure of his opening chef at Ba Bay, owner Khoa Nguyen says he’s leaving the front of the Vietnamese retreat for the back.

“I’m definitely going to get dirtier,” says Nguyen, who is replacing Nick Sharpe in the kitchen of the Capitol Hill establishment.

Sharpe, who came to the project from the nearby Sonoma, left this month. According to his former employer, he has been tapped to work with a restaurant group in San Francisco.

The opening at Ba Bay gave Nguyen an opportunity to reevaluate the modern-Vietnamese menu and “go back to the drawing board.” Although he’s keeping a few dishes that have become signatures, including autumn rolls and chicken wings, Nguyen plans to “rely more on traditional family recipes” moving forward.

Out: romaine salad with sesame vinaigrette and egg noodles with rock shrimp. In: jicama salad with shrimp and fish sauce, and rice noodles with grilled pork. “There will be more fish sauce everywhere,” jokes the restaurateur. He predicts that in a month, 80 percent of the menu will be different. (Ba Bay’s banh mi is staying, we’re happy to report; Nguyen is experimenting with a version using fish cakes.)

Helping him ease into the kitchen is sous-chef Sara Siegel, whom Nguyen met when the two worked at Vidalia downtown. Keeping him on a firm Vietnamese leash is the restaurant’s inspiration, the owner’s 83-year-old grandmother, Hoa Tran. She has eaten everything on the current menu, says Nguyen, and is advising him on what to revise and what to retire.

She’s taking her task seriously. Nguyen says she extended her visa to stay here to help tweak the script.