If there’s a word that can be used to describe Long Grain, a pan-Asian restaurant in downtown Camden, it could very well be house-made. Or, perhaps, local. Or maybe authentic. Either way, proprietors Ravin Nakjaroen and Paula Palakawong have, for the past two years, been creating and serving a kind of Asian fusion that’s rooted in Thai cuisine, but that’s unlike anything else served on the Midcoast.
Where your typical Thai restaurant offers up a combination of coconut curries, stir-fried noodle and rice and fresh and fried appetizers, Long Grain is the opposite. Instead of deep-fried crab rangoons, try the steamed pork buns — savory pork on a fluffy white bun, a Korean favorite. Instead of green curry swimming in sauce and vegetables, try Ke Mao — pork belly, kale, wild mushrooms and house-made, wide, flat rice noodles, spiked with whole chilis. There are spring rolls and dumplings, sure, but the spring rolls pack a punch with the addition of spearmint, instead of regular mint, and the dumplings have seaweed for a Japanese-style flavor profile.
Chef Nakjaroen got his start cooking in Florida, but came to Maine a few years ago to work at the White Lion in Camden, an Asian restaurant and raw bar that’s now closed. Two winters ago he decided to strike out on his own and, with Palakawong, opened Long Grain, set in an intimate corner of downtown Camden, just down the street from the Opera House. It’s been a hit with locals and tourists alike ever since.
The restaurant only seats about 40, so reservations are recommended, and since a New York Times article last month highlighted them, business has been more than brisk. It’s also extremely reasonably priced, as one person can have dinner and a drink, and leave a nice tip for the friendly waitstaff, for under $30 — though it’s advisable you leave room for Chef Nakjaroen’s black sesame ice cream, or his coconut flan. Speaking as a devoted disciple of both Thai and Korean foods, I can say without reservation that I would very willingly brave the madness of coastal Route 1 in the summer to make the trek to eat there again. It’s that good.
Long Grain is located at 31 Elm St. in Camden; it is open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, and 4:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner Tuesday-Saturday.