Diner: So Long, Bohemia

Sophisticated flavors at Song Long provoke a yuppie epiphany

Jan 28, 1999 at 2:06 pm

Just after my first taste of the sophisticated flavor of the Goi Cuon at Song Long, I realize — with silent, embarrassed shock — that I've become a yuppie. Meanwhile, my dining partner, Steve, continues talking. He's telling me that today his boss introduced him to the VP, and said, " 'Steve here has great ideas.' Maybe I'm going to like climbing the corporate ladder, after all," he excitedly confesses.

If I'm a yuppie, I suppose the man I live with probably is one too. We live in Mount Adams, where we frequently attend wine tastings, listen to Jazz and go to the Playhouse in the Park. I've been telling myself that this just makes us financially comfortable bohemians. Unfortunately, the truth lies in where we dine. We rarely make it off the hill, and usually find ourselves with crowds of professionals after work, at some restaurant with forest green walls, sharing familiar Italian-American fare.

These recent dining habits inspired my first reaction to Song Long, the Vietnamese restaurant in Roselawn.

The first strike against it, in my narrowing brain, is its location in an unfrequented neighborhood. The strip-center building looks more likely to harbor a dry cleaner, I tell Steve, than a "quaint, ethnic restaurant."

"Have I been demoted by CityBeat" I asked, "for ordering too much wine or something?" The box-shaped room and dingy carpet disappointed me. Rather than enjoying its quirkiness, I scoffed at the landscape of a waterfall, made iridescent by a small bulb which shone through the canvas. The giant family portrait and the goldfish swimming in the tank left me cold and unamused.

My boyfriend has no clue to my epiphany, as I calmly sip my Rain Killer ($3.50), which I believe the menu intended to call "Pain Killer." But as smooth as the concoction of pineapple and orange juice is, it doesn't contain enough rum to do its job. Meanwhile, Steve drinks a Bud Light ($2), and happily eats his Cha Gio Rau Song ($2.50), an arousing mix of vermicelli, carrots, cabbage and tender pork, shrouded in crisp, deep-fried rice paper. Munching on my Gui Cuon ($2.75) distracts me from my revelation, as I appreciate the nuances of flavor beneath the clear, cold rice paper — a blend of fresh cilantro sprigs, vermicelli and fried tofu, doused with sweet, savory peanut nuoc mam (fish) sauce.

"This is passion food," I remark.

Steve agrees. "I had a feeling this would be a good restaurant," he says with his mouth half-full, and I realize his instincts are still intact.

With impeccable timing, the waiter arrives and we order our dinners, Sesame Noodles ($6.95) and Mandarin Duck ($10.50). I consider ordering another drink, while Steve asks me which stocks I think we should buy. The more he talks about Compaq, the more I feel a premature midlife crisis coming on.

"Haven't you ever wanted to drop everything and travel around the world?" I finally ask, even though I've never particularly wanted to. Steve looks at me blankly.

"I'd miss karate," he says. "Did I tell you I'm going for my black belt in March? I need to practice. I'm still not sure I have time with all the traveling I'm doing for work."

This doesn't seem to faze him, even though karate is his passion. The man drags himself to karate class three times a week, once from his bed, sick with salmonella. He's been telling me since the night we met, "Eventually, I know I'll open my own dojo." But then, I've been telling him for three years that — eventually — I'm going to write that novel, even as I proceed to compose lucrative health articles on chronic disease.

Our dinners arrive, and we eat them quietly. I enjoy each savory taste of cool egg noodles, red peppers, mushrooms, and broccoli, doused in a ginger-rich sesame sauce. Covered in a light, but flavorful, garlic and chili hoison sauce, Steve's Mandarin Duck lies on a bed of mushrooms, crisp carrots, broccoli and bok choy. Though it's a little tough, this doesn't keep him from finishing it.

The check arrives, predictably, with fortune cookies. Mine has some unmemorable Americanized bit of wisdom. Steve's says, "Soon you will have to choose between passion and money." He nods his head, sighing. "This is obviously meant for you, hon — your writing."

I pause. "Probably," I say, putting it in my purse, deciding that — eventually — I'll tell him my revelation. ©