The Simple Elegance Of Duc’s Bistro

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - August 24, 2011
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Duc Nguyen and wife Minh Nga Vu at Duc’s Bistro. Jo McGarry photo

I am always struck by the simple, clean elegance of Duc’s Bistro. With offwhite walls, black-andwhite framed photographs and clean, crisp linen tablecloths, the dining room makes use of natural light during the day, and at dinner it is transformed into one of the most effortlessly intimate dining rooms in Hawaii.

Much of the charm and grace at Duc’s comes from the love and attention the room has seen these past 20 years, because while the food is reason enough to visit, the uncommon warmth and deeply genuine hospitality of owners Duc Nguyen and wife Minh Nga Vu are what make this Vietnamese/French restaurant one worthy of the highest praise. The two have spent the past 20 years between kitchen and dining room, running the ultimate mom-and-pop restaurant with humility.

“What we’re doing, in our industry, is a very simple, honorable job,” says Duc. “We are cooking for people and what we make they put inside their body.” He feels that the sense of honoring his customers, thanking them for their loyalty is the best way he can show his love and appreciation.

“I wish more people would look at the restaurant industry this way,” he says. “I think if they did, they may be more happy in their work.”

A couple of years ago, Duc changed his menu to reflect lighter dishes and smaller portions with less expensive pricing, and the result is delightful combination of French classic cuisine with a traditional Vietnamese twist.

“It’s what our customers want to eat,” says Duc, “so, of course, that’s what we make.”

Almost everything on the menu is worth trying, so go with a group or a large appetite and order enough to sample as many small plates as you can. Green Papaya Salad ($12) and Goi Cuon (rice paper rolls, $10) may appear on other Vietnamese menus, but at Duc’s they come artistically presented with fine dining flair. Foie Gras served with toast is, at $18, the best value for this French classic in Hawaii, and the simple preparation of duck pate served with freshly baked sourdough roll ($8) is an equally delicious bargain.

Seafood dishes include Fish Curry ($15) in the Vietnamese-style, and traditional whole, braised fish ($15). Roasted Duck Breast ($16) comes with traditional orange zest. Steak, chicken and numerous vegetable dishes are all worth trying, but if you’re looking for one dish that perfectly expresses the fusion of French, Vietnamese and Duc’s loving care, then try the Lamb Tenderloin ($22) with turmeric and sautéed garlic seasoning, fresh la lot leaves and roasted watermelon seed garnish.

But don’t go to Duc’s just because the food is good, the conversation engaging and the ambience unrivaled. Go to experience a true restaurateur.

“This is my life,” says Duc, looking around his beautiful dining room. “I love this place and every one of the people who come here and spend time with us.

“The honor is in serving them and sharing what we create with them. That’s a good way to think about food, don’t you think?”

You can hear Duc Nguyen chat with me about his restaurant philosophy at

Happy eating!

Open Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Dinner: 5-10 p.m. 1188 Maunakea St. tabletalk@

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