With the exception of Suzuki’s Sushi, in Rockland, most Asian restaurants in Mid-coast Maine are of the Chinah Dinah variety: lots of Americanized foods, too much brown sauce, gloppy textures, and soul-less flavor. Not so Long Grain. Wedged between Rite-Aid and Zoots on Camden’s Main Street (aka Elm Street), Long Grain promises “Asian home cooked & street foods,” and makes good on it.
We arrived on a snowy winter’s night, hankering for some authentic Asian fare. Judging from the parade of folks picking up take-out orders, this place already has a strong local following. And on a cold, blustery night, take-out is a wise choice. The space is small, and there’s no air-lock entry, so every time the door opens, diners are greeted with a blast of cold air (which can seem endless as some folks hold the door open for straggling friends and family). So dress warmly or let the food warm your night; which it will. (Also see update, below).
The space: Small and tight, long and narrow, with a fewer than a dozen tables and a full bar with some seating (reservations are wise, call 207-236-9001). Decorations are sparse but fun: hung artwork comprises old kitchen utensils tacked on boards. Note: Restrooms are up a narrow back stairway, a challenge or impossibility for anyone who is mobility impaired.
The food: The menu is divided into appetizers, soup, rice, noodles, stir-fried, and daily curry. Our table of four began by splitting three appetizers: fresh spring rolls ($6), house-made steamed bun with braised pork shoulder ($7), and steamed pork, shrimp, & local seaweed dumplings ($6). We split the bun four ways, so I only had a nibble and it wouldn’t be fair to judge it solely on this, since as our server noted when he split it, it wasn’t easy to get all the ingredients in each bite. That said, I liked the moistness of the bun paired with the meat, but it was all made better with a tad of the hot sauce accompaniment. The dumplings were meaty and delicious, although dominated by the pork flavor. The spring rolls were just what a spring roll should be: bright with color and flavor and crisp. I could have a meal on these apps alone, perhaps paired with a cup of coconut soup (next time).
For entrees ($9.50-14,) we ordered pad Thai chicken (hands down, best in the area), spicy night market noodle soup with ground pork & peanut (thick with ingredients, enough spice to clear the sinuses), ginger chicken with mixed mushroom (nice presentation with meaty mushrooms) and ramen noodle duck soup (I had this—came with a full duck leg—flavor was good, but doesn’t compete with Portland’s Pai Men Miyake; next time I’d order something different).
We split the sole dessert offered: creme brulé with sticky rice and coconut sauce. I had expected kind of an Asian version of sticky pudding, but no, the brulé (which was a bit gritty) was served adjacent to the rice, with the sauce drizzled over it all. Eh.
Bottom line: As we left the restaurant, we were making plans to return, probably for lunch next time. I hope this place makes it; this location seems unstable, as restaurants in this row are like waves in the harbor, they rise and swell, then often disappear. We’re all hoping this one stays.
Update, November, 2011: I returned with friends, and this time the food was even better. We shared two appetizers, four entrées, and dessert. The pan-fried garlic-chive rice cakes with sauteed bean sprounts ($7.50) were a delight. I’d return just for those. Ditto for the ramen with kimchi soup, pork belly, tofu, and poached free-range egg ($12.50), which had a subtle kick, and the beef massaman curry with root vegetables and cucumber ajad ($15). Those two entrées were rich in texture and flavor. This time the creme brulé with sticky rice and coconut sauce dessert was creamy and addictive. Love this little gem. Do make reservations, it’s tiny. Or consider going for lunch.
(Note: For more background on the restaurant, read Jonathan Levitt’s recent article in the Boston Globe)