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Vietnamese Variety

Song Long gets cooking with Vietnam's colonial heritage

Song Long is the kind of restaurant where you secretly want a flaming pot on your table, though. Looking around this festive room, with its deliriously treacly Vietnamese pop soundtrack, its mirrored-ball spinning above the dance floor, its waiters clad in stylishly batiked vests, it's hard not to ask when the party's going to start. You sip the obligatory Kendall Jackson chardonnay from a belled-and-fluted goblet, humming helplessly along to "Sealed with a Kiss" and wondering when this big, new establishment will find its audience. So far it seems tentative: mostly empty, diffident in its dealings with non-Asians, the kind of place where the service is pleasant but you wind up asking for this, that and the other.

For the present, Song Long feels like a private theme park. Watch the light refract from its zillion surfaces. Scrape the whipped topping and maraschino cherry from a light, graceful flan that a Frenchman could love. Go for broke with one of the corny fried-ice-cream desserts: they're oddly engaging, rather like vanilla ice cream wrapped in a beignet, with heavyish fruit fritters in attendance (yes to the banana; no to canned jackfruit and pineapple). Maybe the party's started already.

Song Long Bistro, 8282 Bellaire, 776-8600.

Song Long Bistro:
Vietnamese crepe $4.45;
salmon in butter, $8.95;

vegetarian Mekong soup, $6.95.

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