Sunday, February 21, 2010

Huong Viet Restaurant in Nutley

A photo of a cup of coffee.Image via Wikipedia

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.

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  1. I love Vietnamese food and have eaten it in my travels to Montreal and San Francisco. I know of a place in Spring Valley, NY that gets great reviews, however I might have to check out Huong Viet.

  2. We might have gotten better service if we sat in the main, lower-level room. We'll definitely go back.

  3. Glad you directed me to this post, Victor.

    From what I've experienced there, it doesn't matter where you sit; we were one of many who got up and went to the counter to ask for wine (that had been taken to be opened), tea, plates, chopsticks, silverware, water, the opportunity to order, etc. Some items that we ordered simply never came--no explanation, not on the bill, but they never arrived.

    I can only help that the owners are Googling their new place and reading this information over and over again, because as one friend said, "Bad food isn't so easy to fix...hiring a couple of extra people to improve the service IS--and in this economy, they'd better fix it fast."

    The food, as you've said, is wonderful--and worth the wait--but you shouldn't have to bring snacks to tide you over while waiting for it--which we actually did, thanks to waiting over 30 minutes for the first apps to arrive and a mom who always carries a granola bar or two.

  4. BTW that really good rich coffee you liked? It's the cheap Latino stuff. El Pico.

    Its from a company called Rowland in Florida that owns the Bustelo, Pilon and El Pico Brands. They are basically identical with minor differences in roast profile and rubusto/arabica ratios. Very good no nonsense coffee.

  5. That's pretty sad. I recall from our meal a young Vietnamese woman waiting tables came over and said is everything all right, then left, ignoring the litter of empty dishes. You are right -- next time we want Vietnamese, we might just not bother making the drive and eat in Englewood or Fort Lee.

  6. Jason, it's hard to believe that's cheap coffee. It's so thick and delicious. I'm having lunch there Thursday and I'll order it again. (My last comment -- "That's pretty sad" -- was meant for Curlz.)

  7. Cheap coffee doesn't mean bad. I actually watched the guy make the stuff, it's El Pico.

    A lot of the Vietnamese places in New Orleans use Cafe Du Monde or Community Coffee, which again is pretty mainstream coffee. Nothing wrong with it. CDM and Community bricks in New Orleans go for about $2-$2.50. The Rowland stuff is a very similar dark Cuban roast, nearly identical flavor profile to a French roast.


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