Before we go any further, remember these numbers: 3, 16, 24, and 69. Those are the lucky numbers at Huong Viet in Nutley.
On to the story: a couple of weeks ago, it was Lou Palma's birthday. I wanted to take the maestro-of-all-things-pork out for a celebratory lunch. Criteria like ambiance, service, and good lighting, didn't really matter to the gastro-mechanic or myself. The only criteria worthy of consideration was the food - particularly, the deliciousness of it. I thought about the usual lunch suspects, namely, Uncle Moustache and Next Door, but I wanted something a bit different.
A few months ago, Sharon, a foodie friend of mine (I'm not sure if I have any other kinds of friends) turned me on to Huong Viet, this tiny Vietnamese restaurant in Nutley. Jason Perlow, too, had long been a fan of Huong Viet, and since it would feed my Vietnamese addiction, Lou and I left Montclair and headed for Nutley!
Sure enough, every dish hit the mark. We staged our meal, beginning with #16 Goi Tom Du Du ($6.95), a crisp, tangy salad of julienned green papaya with sliced shrimp and peanuts, that refreshed and primed our palettes for more! Next, #3, Cha Gio ($4.95), spring rolls with shrimp and pork (4). It's a fact, Lou knows a lot of stuff, but I did have to teach him the proper method for eating spring rolls: place the warm, crispy cigar on the lettuce, add a few mint leaves, chili sauce if you so desire, roll, and dip in mirin. It's quite possibly the perfect bite; texture, color, and flavors bright, savory, and tangy. It's got it all.
Along with #24, Pho Tai rice noodle soup with rare beef, we also had #69 Thit Heo Nuong Lui ($10.95) charbroiled lemongrass pork on skewers (4). The Pho was savory and bright with cilantro and lime, but, still, not as transcendent as the brilliant broth at Bing Duong in Bloomfield (see Phonatic!). The pork skewers, however, were exceptional. Pork on a stick has a tendency to get dry and tough, at Huong Viet, a charred crust encased tender, toothsome pork, kept juicy by just the right amount of pork fat. A must have.
At Huong Viet, it doesn't really matter that the owner declines to open my wine. No biggie - I carry my own corkscrew. And his expression of disdain when I request a new glass for my wine? I look past it. And, even that time when I was badly hungover, and drove to Nutley seeking pho, only to find the doors unexplainably locked - phok! I let it go. I have to forgive them, because when their doors are open, I play my lucky numbers and hit every time.
358 Passaic Avenue
Nutley, NJ 07110