Sunday, July 1, 2012

The downside of a BYO restaurant

A spicy Tamarind Soup with tofu at Simply Vietnamese in Tenafly.

All I wanted was a quiet Saturday night dinner with the family at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant -- the only reason we dine out in tony Tenafly.

Instead, we were surrounded by other customers who voices seemed to grow louder with each gulp of wine they drank in the casual BYO, Simply Vietnamese.

One man knocked over his glass, splashing red wine on a customer at the next table, where a party of six were working their way through several bottles.

A waitress cleaned up the mess amid the clumsy guy's profuse apologies. 

I looked at one woman at a table near the window, and she sounded as if she was shouting at her husband, who was seated facing her only 2 feet away.

She likely was trying to keep her voice above the wine-fueled commotion filling the small dining room, one of two in the storefront restaurant.

By the time we escaped the din, customers filled nearly every table inside and several outside, and almost everyone brought their own bottle -- or two, in the case of one party of four.

After we arrived for our 6 p.m. reservation, Joe, the head waiter, gave us a choice of two tables inside, but he never had time to come over and chat as he usually does. Nor did I see K.T. Tran, the chef-owner.

The servers were slammed, and it took longer to get our appetizers, entrees and especially the check. I can just imagine what was going on in the kitchen.

I did notice an appetizer of New Zealand Mussels with a ginger-wasabi sauce gave off an unpleasant scorched-shell smell from being left under the broiler too long ($8.50).

When I asked for a special, Spicy Tamarind Soup with tofu, pineapple and fresh tomato, no one asked whether I wanted it less spicy than the full furnace blast I got ($15.50).

We had three appetizers: New Zealand green-lip mussels for me, above; pork ribs, below, and a summer roll with duck, not shown.

In a restaurant with a liquor license, you wouldn't encounter so many loose-lipped customers drinking wine. 

The ridiculous markup on bottles and even glasses of wine at many restaurants keeps down the number of people who order liquor with their food.

And it keeps down the noise, too.

An anise-flavored broth called Pho, above, comes with a plate of garnishes, including cilantro, bean sprouts and jalapeno pepper, below. Pho is a breakfast soup in Vietnam.

The House Noodle Soup with ribs, above, contains thick noodles, below.

Garlic Chicken comes with onions, green beans, bok choy and zucchini ($12).
We also ordered too much, because ribs in his soup weren't enough for my growing teenage carnivore. He wanted the rib appetizer, too.

We spent more than $100 for four, including a lower-than-usual tip for service that wasn't up to what I have come to expect at Simply Vietnamese.

Next time, we'll try to go there at 5 p.m., as we have in the past -- before the wave of chatty wine drinkers descends on the place.

Simply Vietnamese, 1 Highwood Ave., Tenafly; 201-568-7070.

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