George

When we entered the tiny Long Grain restaurant on Camden’s Main Street, a table of six glanced our way and I spotted our friend Priscilla, who told me they were eating there because they’d read our column about the restaurant published two years ago. That made us feel good, of course, knowing that we’d helped this small but amazing place, designated our favorite Thai restaurant in our travel book that will be published next spring.

We began our wonderful evening — shared with our daughter Rebekah and son-in-law Patrick Mellor — at The Drouthy Bear across the street from Long Grain. Owners Andrew and Shannon Stewart sold their country store in Hope, which was a favorite destination when we were in the area, and opened this small bar and restaurant. Judging by the fact there were lots of people waiting to get in, they’re off to a good start in their first month. Their menu was inviting, but with a Long Grain feast ahead, we just had drinks.

You must get a reservation at Long Grain because the tables are always full with many folks also picking up take-out lunches and dinners. The prices are mostly in the $9-$14 range — very affordable. I started my feast that night with Dai Dai, a flavorful Japanese beer, while our exceptional server Courtney explained some of the items on the specials menu. It’s a good thing all the servers here are knowledgeable about the food, because the menu can’t begin to explain the complexity of some of these dishes. Chef Ravin Jakjaroen is a creative cook, while his wife, Paula Paladawong, is a vibrant presence in the front of the house, doing everything including clearing dishes.

It’s really fun to eat here with friends and family members, because that gives you a chance to try more items. For appetizers, I enjoyed the rice cakes ($8.50) — they were soft and flavorful — and the street chicken wings ($12) brought a “Wow! They are hot!” from Rebekah. They were served in a bag as “street food,” and I really loved them. But it was a good thing I had the Dai Dai handy!

Patrick and I both had an item from their stir-fried list, the house-made kimchi with pork belly and rice cake ($14). I loved this dish on our last visit, so you could say I’m in a rut. But what a great rut to be in. Becky is also in a rut, ordering the pad thai ($12), which she always orders here.

Linda

We were a little late giving daughter Rebekah and son-in-law Patrick one of their Christmas presents, dinner at the Long Grain restaurant. It wasn’t for lack of trying. A scheduled reservation last winter got postponed because of a snowstorm. But, as they say, good things come to those who wait — in this case, great things, as we had a spectacular meal there.

The menu identifies their food as “Asian Home-Cooked and Street Foods.” It really is a fusion of cuisines featuring many ingredients I am not familiar with. The chefs here are creative and perhaps the offerings on the menu will be as mysterious to you as they are to us. I was brave enough to try something different from what I’d enjoyed on our last visit.

We did repeat the incredible chive rice cakes times two. Patrick and Rebekah oohed and aahed over the unique texture and intricate flavors, just as we did when we first tried them. The street chicken wings were marinated small wing sections that were fried to heavenly crispiness. It was the dipping sauce that won us all over with a kick of chilies and a prominent lime flavor.

My discovery this visit was that a simply stated item on the menu is anything but ordinary. Chinese yellow noodles with roasted pork ($12) turned out to be a most extraordinary dish. I asked Courtney to tell me about it and found out it had Chinese sausage, scallions, bamboo shoots and mushrooms in addition to the noodles and pork. The finely cut noodles and sausage were slightly sweet, while the bamboo was crunchy. The scallions and pork added more textures and interesting flavors. It was a hit with everyone at our table.

George’s kimchi and pork belly was just as wonderful as I remembered. Though we didn’t get Rebekah out of her pad thai rut, she loved all the other dishes too. We also repeated the cream custard with black sticky rice (times two). It is not overly sweet and has a wonderful coconut flavor. It’s the perfect end to a meal here.

The menu might confuse you, but I urge you to ask your server for an explanation of the dishes you want to try. Then go out on a limb and try something new! They will tell you if that dish is spicy, if you are concerned, and will prepare a milder version of some dishes. Otherwise, be prepared to have your taste buds awakened to new flavors!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.

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