(The words don’t rhyme, by the way.)
I understand the excitement. It’s nice to have a taste of the International District downtown. We’ve got the recently reviewed Thoa’s slightly south of Pike Place Market, and now we’ve got Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant and Jelly Bar, just to the north.
Long is the sister restaurant of the beloved Tamarind Tree—Tam Nguyen’s effort to bring a little elegance to Little Saigon. Nguyen’s trying to do the same in the old Qube space. The good news: Long’s food isn’t divided into thirds, like that quirky Qube concept. And many of the Tamarind Tree’s delightful dishes are on the menu.
The not-so-good news: I don’t like how they’ve redone the space. Despite its faults, the Qube dining room was open and airy. But instead of an improvement, dining at Long seems dark and disconnected.
And what’s with all the Caucasian servers? One thing I especially like about Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon is that the workers tend to be…Vietnamese. They usually know the culture and cuisine. But if not for the uniforms, I would think that the people who greet me inside Long’s lovely front door are part of an after-work group gathering for cocktails. Nice enough, but not knowledgeable enough about the menu. Granted, there’s a lot to learn upon opening (and the menu is long and unwieldy), but as it’s not the food these folks grew up on, I fear they won’t ever have the insight on ingredients and preparation that I benefit from when I’m served by Vietnamese people.
Truth is, Tamarind Tree had numerous kitchen and service issues for many months after opening. Hopefully Nguyen will improve things at Long as he did at Tamarind Tree. My biggest concern, though, is that being downtown and with a different clientele, Long will dumb the dishes down. Oh, I was glad to see items like the awkwardly named baby clam rice cracker on the menu, but what I’ve tasted so far at Long has been a bit bland, and not bold like the flavors I favor at Tamarind Tree. And where was the bun bo Hue? Would Nguyen’s workers be willing to pig out on pork blood cubes? Or are they the type that would prefer to be hanging out in Long’s lounge drinking cocktails?
Don’t get me wrong; I want Long to survive and thrive. But bordering on Belltown, I don’t want to see it become another lounge destination. To be a dining destination that will stay long on my radar, I hope Long will serve up those pork blood cubes and other provincial specialties in their purist fashion.