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Go for the food, not the service.
We had a wonderful meal last night at Huong Viet, a Vietnamese restaurant in Nutley that is worth the detour, but we could have done without the delays in bringing a drink or a bottle opener for our beer, and uncleared dishes, even though we were the first of the dinner crowd to arrive.
This is a family run place and that is why the food is so good. But the young staff of relatives, though well-meaning, do a poor job of waiting on tables.
The menu is far more extensive than at our two favorite Vietnamese restaurants -- Saigon R. in Englewood and Mo' Pho' in Fort Lee, both from chef-owner K.T. Tran. The Nutley restaurant is in an old storefront with a bright street-level room and an upper level with an uneven floor, where we sat against the wall at a table for four that sloped downward.
Now, to the food. We started with three soups -- wonton with pork, house special egg-drop with crab and asparagus, and anise-flavored pho with noodles and crunchy fish cakes. All were terrific, but my son objected to the wontons' excessive skins, which were overcooked and unpleasantly soft.
Our entrees were fried catfish fillets with a fresh-ginger sauce and pork meatballs with lettuce and fresh mint leaves for wrapping, plus sauteed mustard greens and garlic. We got two big fish fillets, with a small salad and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and 10 meatballs on wood skewers, with some vermicelli noodles and fish sauce for dipping. We loved all three dishes and took home leftovers.
We usually don't eat dessert, but the waiter said his aunt had prepared her special "flan." I said did he mean creme caramel, recalling the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine. No, he said, it's flan, so we ordered one. I also ordered black coffee and got a small, silver-colored, French-press pot on top of a cup, and I wasn't sure what to do with it.
So I pushed down on the press and after a few minutes poured the coffee into the cup, adding two small packets of sugar. This was the thickest, most delicious black coffee I have ever had. The "flan" was excellent.
I didn't note the prices of individual dishes, but this BYO represents good value. Our meal cost about $75 for three, including a $9 tip. My thanks to Jason Perlow of Off The Brolier for letting us know about Huong Viet.
Huong Viet Restaurant, 358 Passaic Ave., Nutley, Essex County;
973-667-0827. Parking in rear. No Web site.