a couple weeks ago my upper boss took my division out for a nice lunch for our yearly appreciation week. in years past, we've gone to dahlia, ordered lunch in, and some of his other favorites, but this year i was tricked into making a suggestion. there were only a couple criteria: a) some place nearish work; b) a little on the upscale side; c) and something most people would like. i'd never been to Qube (RIP), nor had i ever wanted to, but ever since hearing about Long Provincial opening up in that failed frasian fusion location, my interest was piqued.
i am a lover of Tamarind Tree's luxe take on vietnamese food, and since Long promised some variations on the TT menu, i knew it would be a winner's choice.
i don't usually like to read too many reviews of restaurants before i visit. in general, i prefer to take in a little general buzz, and if it's a chef or restaurant conglomerate i trust, then i'll go and judge for myself. i did, however, distinctly remember reading an press release about Long Provincial taking over the old Qube space, and one gripe the writer had was that the interior was once very open and industrial, and Long had closed in the space unnecessarily with heavy walls.
the interior was interesting, with splashes of color, as you can see, but i have to agree. there was a little too much compartmentalization of the space with giant, royal purple walls. since it was a work function, i didn't want to be too rude and take zillions of pictures. sigh. the post suffers, but hopefully my description will suffice. in the center of the dining room, there what looked like a white, giant rice bowl with flames flickering out of the top. very olympic. also, the tank in the lower lefthand corner of the picture above was full of small jellyfish pulsing in the electric blue water. no wonder the attached watering hole is called the "Jelly Bar."
the portrait windows onto the street, however, we beautifully covered in soft rice paper. the effect was shadowing and serene. in the foreground of this photo, you can just barely make out the top of a gigantic pot filled with tumbled rocks and some tropical, deep malachite green plant.
it took a while for everyone to explore the extensive menu...and that was just for appetizers! after a hot debate over what to get, we settled on the fresh Tamarind Tree rolls. they were refreshing and light; filled with fried tofu, roasted peanut, fresh coconut, jicama, and carrots. they were also served with vegetarian fish sauce. mmm.
the only appetizer that i felt strongly about ordering was the baby clams rice cracker. from the very first time i went to Tamarind Tree, i fell in love with this dish. it's basically chopped baby clams marinated with garlic and onion, tossed with chili, and sprinkled with crushed peanuts. it's served with a giant sail of a rice cracker dotted with nutty black sesame seeds. oh man. i'm getting hungry just talking about it.
ps, i think this was a crowd favorite with my coworkers as well, yay!
lastly came the crispy prawn baguette. i seriously had no idea what to expect when we requested this appetizer. the menu describes it as "baguette slices and Pacific prawns coated with seasoned batter, deep-fried served with hoisin and chili sauce. Popular dish from Mekong Delta wine pairing event-2005," and our served misleadingly described it as a "shrimp donut." i kind of imagined some sort of shrimp toast of the dimsum variety. boy were all descriptions and expectations wrong. it is a fritter. plain and simple. shrimp. meets. fritter. it was tasty nonetheless.
two of my coworkers savored the combination vermicelli bowl which featured sugarcane shrimp, grilled pork skewer, and prawn skewer. like all vermicelli bowls, it came with cucumber spears, cilantro, mint, shredded lettuce, daikon, carrot, crushed peanut, and fish sauce. it all looked so delicious, however, one of the bowls' vermicelli was undercooked!! major fail!!!
F. devoured the lemongrass chicken. it was a simple, elegant, and just right. he said that the chicken was super flavorful (though he would have preferred more heat), and the rice was a soft, fragrant jasmine. his clean plate attested for Long's success.
G. finally decided on one of Long's specialty dishes (win!), the vegetarian crepe. this rice flour crepe was filled with shiitake mushrooms, mung beans, bean sprouts, and tofu served with a side of veg fish sauce (G opted for the real deal). a tray of lettuce, mint, cilantro, thai basil, sprouts, pickled carrots and daikon pushed this specialty over the top to wrap up bites of crepe and dip into the sauce. yumz. G said it was awesome and nearly finished it, and i can attest to the tasty simplicity of this dish since i've had it before at TT!
i wanted to try something a little different, so i went with the La Vang pot rice. it seemed like forever since i'd had jasmine rice, so i knew this would be deeply satisfying. i mean, look at it! who doesn't love anything served in a blue and white pot?!? i would eat hot trash out of this stoneware.
well, Long, you did not disappoint. all the elements of this dish were peppery, earthy, and perfect after i doused it with fish sauce. the pot was filled with a base layer of jasmine rice which soaked up all the braised juices from the fresh, local tofu (northwest tofu? tahnahn son?), chayote squash, carrot, and oyster, black, and fresh shiitake mushrooms. holy s. so good. i had to stop so that i wouldn't explode (i had to return to work, you know).
of course when M asked if we wanted dessert, i had to take him up on the offer. i'll keep it short and sweet (no pun intended, i swear) since this is taking a turn for the epic. M stayed true to herself and got the flan. she couldn't turn down burnt caramel if her life depended on it. not only was it tasty, but it was equally beautiful in its elegant presentation.
F went for simple, as well, and tried the toasted coconut ice cream. do i have to say anything? i mean, just look at that.
apologies for the poor picture quality on this one, but again, i hope description will suffice. M had to try the grilled banana cake. layers of grilled red banana and sweet rice soak in cognac? sign me up. this was also served with warm coconut milk and crushed peanuts. oh yumz.
G got the veeeeeeeeery last scoop of black sesame ice cream. much like ambrosia's bubble shake version, i am a sucker for this flavor. it was both refreshing and rich. "how?" you ask...i have no idea. magic.
and last, but not least, i had to go with something on the "weird" side of the menu. i actually really loved the grilled cassava (yuca) in a pool of coconut milk, crushed peanut, and get this, spring onion. the cassava was like eating a semi-sweet potato....almost like dense, azuki bean paste. at first it was strange, but after i ate a scoop of milk + cassava + onion, i knew it was the truth. just that slight bit of bright grassiness balanced the dense, potato-y nature of the cassava.
Long, thank you for a great staff lunch. i still think about that La Vang rice pot. in fact, it sounds pretty awesome right about now...