Salt and Pepper Calamari; Roasted Whole Dungeness Crab; Mango Salad with Bell Peppers, Seared Scallops, and Shrimp over Greens with Raspberry Vinaigrette
Occupation: Human Services Manager
Location: Daly City
Favorite Restaurant: Thanh Long Restaurant
Reviewed Thanh Long Restaurant: Friday, November 21, 2008
Thanh Long is my restaurant of choice for Check, Please!, because it is the restaurant where I would like to be when I want to celebrate or when I need to entertain guest from out-of-town. I grew up eating at Thanh Long during the late seventies with my family, so I was really excited to bring along my sister (Rosaly), her husband (Ramon), and my husband (Garry), to experience Thanh Long with fresh “new” eyes.
When I called Thanh Long on a Friday afternoon for reservations, I didn’t have a problem getting one for that same evening. Thanh Long has since expanded from a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant to a contemporary, two-story restaurant that can accommodate a fair amount of people. Finding street parking on a Friday night was not as easy. After driving around the residential neighborhood once, we found a spot about 1/2 a block away. However, if you’re not up to it, Thanh Long has valet parking for a fee.
When we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted warmly by the hostess, who gave us a choice of a table on the first floor or on the second floor. Although, I usually prefer to be in the midst of everything, I wanted a quieter area tonight, so I chose to be upstairs. I was glad that the hostess gave me the option. As soon as we were seated, I noticed that jazz music was playing in the background -- loud enough to be festive, but not so loud that you cannot hear your conversation. Our server appeared right away to take our orders for drinks.
We also didn’t take long to order our dinner, because my family and I have a long-standing ritual of ordering the same thing. We started with the thinly sliced grilled beef satay on skewers, lightly spiced. The portion size is small (three small sticks per order), but resist the urge to order more of this, because you will want to try other appetizers and they will fill you up. For our second appetizer, we chose the crispy roll (comes with its own special dip), because it complemented the grilled beef and the mango salad. The mango salad at Thanh Long is one of my favorite salads. I love that it has shrimp and scallops (which are not overcooked), and bell peppers and diced mango over mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette, which is slightly sour with a hint of sweetness.
Before our main course arrived, our small plates were replaced with cleans ones, our table was cleaned, and protective plastic bibs were placed around our necks. I happen to like being fussed over, and our server did not disappoint me. He was attentive (refilling our drinks without having to ask for it) and helpful (making appropriate recommendations without being intrusive). Finally, our roasted crab arrived with garlic noodles and a bowl of rice. The rice is not necessary if you are having the noodles (a little too many carbs), but I like to drizzle my rice with the crab’s embedded seasoning of garlic, black pepper, butter, and secret spices. This secret is not a joke for Thanh Long owners. They even built a separate cooking area for the crab, restricted to most people, but for a few members of the An family. One crab is enough for two people and, truly, this simple meal is very filling. You can use the small fork to eat your crab with, but inevitably, you will be using your fingers and lots of finger licking. I also like to dip my crabmeat in the special sauce for the crispy rolls, while my sister prefers to dip hers in vinegar. The server was very accommodating with our little preferences.
At the end of the meal, we were given steaming, hot towels (be careful, they are very hot) for wiping our hands -- a very handy idea so that you don’t have to leave your table to clean up. For dessert, we ordered our usual fried banana with vanilla ice cream. We also tried something new, the chocolate lava cake with vanilla-bean gelato. Both desserts were good, but I will stick to my fried banana because it compl3mented the meal more. My sister also tried ordering an after-dinner drink without liquor. After the waiter told her that it would be basically like ordering a hot chocolate, my sister settled for coffee. We really appreciated our server’s helpful feedback.
Around 8:30 pm, we left Thanh Long happy and satisfied. By that time, the reception area (which is small to begin with) was full of people waiting to be seated. I recommend that if you dine with a group, plan to be there at the same time because Thanh Long will not seat you until all of your party has arrived. Nevertheless, even if you have to wait a little bit, it is certainly worth it. By the time we got to our car, we were already looking forward to our next visit to Thanh Long. So should you.
Occupation: Retired Superior Court Judge
Favorite Restaurant: Oliveto Café & Restaurant
Reviewed Thanh Long Restaurant: Wednesday, November 26, 2008
‘Tis a long drive on a rainy Wednesday evening from the East Bay to the outer Sunset in San Francisco. Thanh Long is one of a long list of good Vietnamese restaurants that seem to thrive in the Bay Area. The dragon motif, light airy room, good smells and punctual seating for our 7:30 reservation made for a good first impression. Because of the long drive, we arrived a bit early and lucked into street parking. Having arrived early allowed us to get a bottle of wine and check out the food being eaten, with general gusto, by the folks in the jam-packed front room.
It’s a good thing that crab season is now open, 'cuz there were more crabs being served than I have ever seen. We asked the maître d' about the ways they prepare them and to identify each as they were delivered to the tables. Then we checked out how people reacted to them.
Roasted was our unanimous choice. A good one as it turned out. The kitchen’s skills are superb. The crisp dishes were crispy, and the ingredients seemed seasonal and fresh. Confession, my wife and I share a prejudice, hers more strongly held than mine. We are generally not pleased with sweetness in savory dishes. As I understand it, southern Vietnamese cooking uses lots of large crystallized cane sugar in much of their cuisine. Unfortunately, for us, Thanh Long must be a southern style restaurant.
The roasted crab, crispy soft-shell crab, and salt and pepper calamari were nothing short of excellent, as was the garlic rice. The rest of the dishes had a disappointingly sweet edge. The seasonal vegetable sauté was texturally perfectly cooked, but way too sweet. Our friends didn’t seem to find the sweetness off-putting, nor did the other diners. But for my wife and me, we were unimpressed because of that. That speaks to our taste and not to the skill of the chef and the authenticity of the cuisine. Should we return, we would need to be more careful with our selections.
Our server took quite a while to show up, but was apologetic once he did. The place was packed and that undoubtedly was the reason. Apology accepted. He, while not Vietnamese (Thai), was well-versed on the food and most friendly, as it should be in a neighborhood place. The clientele was a San Francisco mix with a decidedly heavy number of Asians. I assume that most of them were Vietnamese. Families with children were in great number. Loudly convivial was the crowd, but the design of the rooms substantially muted the noise.
I confess that this is the most expensive Vietnamese restaurant I have ever been to. So bang for the buck is missing. ($37 for a crab!!!) That, plus the long drive, and the sugary dishes probably mean we won’t return, but one of our group is planning to, as she has a friend who lives in the “hood.”
Occupation: Deputy Director, SF Office of Gov. Schwarzenegger
Location: Mill Valley
Favorite Restaurant: India Palace Restaurant
Reviewed Thanh Long Restaurant: Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I called that day to make reservations and was greeted warmly on the phone. I entered the restaurant with a small group of friends, and we were seated right away. The tone of pleasant service continued through the dinner. We entered a bright space with a good size crowd for a weeknight. We were seated toward the back of the restaurant near the kitchen, there was a comfortable noise level, and we enjoyed our space.
It was a chilly night out in the Sunset, and I was looking forward to a bowl of pho to warm me up. To my surprise they didn’t have it listed on the menu. As a frequent visitor to other Vietnamese restaurants, I have understood pho to be a staple of the Vietnamese menu. I did notice that they had other soups listed, so we decided to try a couple of them. The first soup, a vegetable blend, was too salty to enjoy. The second, a chicken noodle soup, was another disappointment consisting of chewy chicken and a weak broth. Even though the beginning of our meal was lackluster, we became enthused when we tried the Buddha Roll, which was filled with fresh ingredients and bursting with flavor. Then disappointment found us again by the next appetizer, a crab puff that was really more cream cheese than crab.
After our mediocre starters, we were ready to get to the meat of our meal, a shaken beef and a shrimp curry. There were only four pieces of small rubbery shrimp in our curry dish. Good thing, as no one wanted more. The shaken beef had nice flavor, but was tough. We wondered why anyone would return?
Just when we had given up hope, we finally found the reason to return…it’s for the crab. We ordered the roast crab and it was a hit! Cooked perfectly with mild notes of garlic and butter, it was love. As a side to the crab, we ordered the garlic noodles and the shrimp fried rice. Again, another miss with the garlic noodles. They were soaked in butter and did not compliment the crab. On the other hand we felt that the shrimp fried rice had a nice balance of flavors, and the shrimp was cooked perfectly. This rollercoaster of good and just-okay dishes became the theme of our dining experience. While other plates were carried away with leftovers we passed on, the crab was well picked over until every piece of meat was gone.
The restaurant is decorated in warm colors and is comfortable. The service is very friendly and knowledgeable. The crab is fantastic. If you are looking for crab and are in the neighborhood I would certainly recommend Thanh Long. Just skip the rest of the menu and order a beer to go with the crab.