Two questions often asked: Where is there good Vietnamese? And what should I order?
Hard questions because Vietnamese food is so diverse. It is SO much more than pho beef noodle soup. Viet menus are expansive (a la American diners) because food ranges from Chinese- and French-influenced dishes, to simple rice and grilled meat dishes. Herbs and fish sauce (salt is rarely used in this cuisine) are always present. Not many things are fried, and flavors are well-balanced – a little salty, a little sweet, a little sour, and sometimes spicy. Heaven.
We were lucky growing up with Mama N’s ability to cook a wide range of Viet food fantastically. But even Mama N needs a break. So what do we do? We go to particular restaurants for particular menu items that the chef is known to make really well.
(photo credit: marieletseat)
Despite press in local publications, the clientele is still largely Vietnamese. (Hint: Follow the Asians for good food. Restaurant quality ebbs and flows depending on current chef and management. Asians love eating, and when you see them not going to a place as much, the food quality has likely gone downhill.)
So what are these two things we favor?
A delightfully hearty soup called Mi Vit Tiem (noodle soup with braised duck) is particularly great on cold, winter nights. It reminds me of ramen – egg noodles and a rich, dark broth – but I love it more. Instead of slices of meat, the bowl arrives with a duck leg/quarter. You touch it with a spoon and the meat just falls off the bone.
Next time I’ll get a photo, but in the meantime, here is a good representation.
(I’m surprised Nam Phuong even has a website, because most authentic Asian places don’t. But an example of why you need insider tips is because Nam Phuong uses a photo of its mi vit tiem on its “soups and salad” menu page, but the dish is not even listed on the menu! They definitely have it, so just order it.)
The other item we get, Ba Vi (“three delights”), is the restaurant’s specialty. Nearly every table at the restaurant will order this. It is an interactive dinner experience where you make your own rice paper rolls. Like summer rolls, but better.
Huge trays of beautiful greens and meats arrive with dipping sauces and rice paper wrappers ($24). The meats are shrimp balls cooked on sugarcane, house-made grilled pork, and seasoned beef wrapped and grilled in wild betel leaves (similar to grape leaves). The beef is out-of-this-world flavorful.
You start by preparing the rice paper – wet the entire thing with warm water. There is never enough space on a dinner table for the bowl of water needed, but Nam Phuong found a solution! My family and I had never seen this clever water and rice-paper holder before.
Once you wet the wrapper, lay it on your plate to dry. As this happens, assemble the rest of the ingredients within it. Add what you want – that’s the best part! Greens and herbs (some herbs are too intense for me, so I stick to lettuce, basil and mint), meat, vinegared carrot and daikon for crunch and flavor balance, cucumber for more crunch, and rice noodles for sustenance.
Tip: Starting with a piece of lettuce then layering everything else on top helps with rolling.
Roll the best you can (try burrito-style). No beauty contests here.
The trick is to roll it as tight as you can to make it less messy to eat, but not too tight that you rip the wrapper. Just package it together, dip in your preferred sauce, enjoy, and repeat until you’re full!
Nam Phuong serves a couple dipping options – hoisin-based, tamarind/fish-sauce-based, and something fermented. My sisters and I default to the first two. Our parental unit like the last one.
Sometimes we also order a tasty appetizer called Canh Ga Chien Nuoc Mam (literally fried chicken wings with glazed fish sauce) ($8).
Like at most Vietnamese restaurants, your food comes out as soon as it is ready. Often this means your apps and entrees come the same time (or apps even arrive while you’re already eating entrees), which can annoy people. But once you taste everything, the only time sequence you’ll be worried about is how quickly you can gobble everything down.
Enjoy, and let us know what you think!
Nam Phuong, 5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd, Norcross; Tel: 770-409-8686
P.S. I have yet to find good Vietnamese in NYC 😦