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On a recent heat-wave evening, residents on the block of Fifth Avenue between Union and Berkeley streets were hanging out on front stoops and porches to escape the oppressive heat indoors.

Enter the recently opened Thai restaurant Long Tan.

Cool. Clean. Fresh. Sleek. Elegant yet relaxed. Ultra modern yet fun. Sophisticated yet young. The entrance to Long Tan takes you into the smaller of two rooms where there are a few tables and a bar.

The main room, where we dined, is painted white, very large and open with high ceilings. A large banquette with plump, comfy cushions in bright orange, red and pink wraps itself around one wall.

Jazzy, multicolored paper decorations hang down one wall and there are paper lanterns all around the room. An open kitchen underscores the vibrancy of this friendly, relaxed atmosphere, and a large window looks out onto a charming little garden area with flamingo-pink plastic chairs and tables for fair-weather dining.

Rory Dwyer from Ireland and Jamie Webb from Australia are co-owners of Long Tan.

"It might sound a little funny for an Irishman and an Aussie to be opening a Thai restaurant in Brooklyn, but it made sense to us," Dwyer said. "We’ve both been in the food industry for a while and we love Thai food."

Both Dwyer and Webb worked for many years at Raoul’s in Manhattan and, while they loved the fun, relaxed atmosphere there, when it came to opening a restaurant of their own, they opted for Thai cuisine over any other.

"I just love the fresh, simple flavors of Thai," said Dwyer.

Webb, who is a self-taught wine connoisseur, has traveled in Thailand and also loves Thai flavors.

"All the wines on our wine list come from Australia and New Zealand," said Webb. There are also two sparkling French wines. "They have been carefully chosen to complement our food and enhance the flavors and spices used in Thai cuisine."

In fact, the wine and cocktails menu at Long Tan is more extensive than the selection of dishes, which makes it a particularly attractive spot for wine enthusiasts. Webb directed us to the Tim Adams Riesling 1998 from the Clare Valley in South Australia, a very crisp, dry wine with lime overtones.

While we didn’t try any of the special house cocktails, they sounded intriguing and somewhat mysterious, like the Long Tan (a mixture of citrus vodka and loomi, a Middle Eastern citrus drink made from dried oranges, limes and lemons), the Dark & Stormy (dark rum and ginger beer) and the Most Excellent Cosmopolitan (citrus vodka, triple sec, cranberry and fresh lime juices).

We sampled the restaurant’s signature dishes. From the appetizers - crab and mango summer roll, fish cakes with kaffir lime, vegetarian spring rolls and shrimp and lychee spring rolls. My favorite, the crab-mango summer roll, was particularly light with lots of very fresh cilantro and crab meat and a wrap that was more delicate than most.

The shrimp and lychee spring rolls consisted of a large shrimp with a spicy mango mixture inside a crisp fried wrap - tender shrimp, well blended flavors - warm, crisp and satisfying overall.

The fish cakes, a delectable and intriguing mixture of monkfish and skate, had a firmer consistency than the average crab cake. They were small and dense and served with a sweet, light dipping sauce of rice vinegar, onion and carrot.

Individual flavors were lost in the vegetarian roll, which tasted rather bland even though it was served with a sweet, carrot-based sauce that was rather interesting.

My favorite dish of the evening was the shredded duck with frisee and anise (this was one of four from the "Salads" section of the menu). The duck, tender as could be, was sliced very thin and tossed with crispy, fresh bean sprouts on a bed of frisee (endive). Each flavor stood out on its own as well as melding harmoniously together, and the combination of the textures was particularly satisfying. The dressing made from star anise, mango and lemon provided a smooth, sweet finish to the dish.

From the "Mains" portion of the menu, yellow curry of butternut squash, sweet corn and red potatoes earned high marks. The vegetables were tender and fresh in a creamy coconut-based sauce with just enough turmeric to give the dish a little kick. Both the three-flavored snapper and the duck with tamarind sauce were served on beautiful beds of tasty mixed greens - baby mustard greens, bok choy and Chinese broccoli - all brilliantly green and flavorful.

The restaurant’s chef, Jeff Hardinger, explained that the wok at Long Tan is very different from regular cookers.

"The heat is so intense, you throw ingredients in the pan in the order of cooking as fast as you can. This sears the food on the outside and makes it cook in its own juices inside." Hardinger, a native of Oregon, has also cooked French and Italian cuisine. Most recently, his interest has leaned toward Pan-Asian and fusion styles, and now he’s happy to be focusing on Thai.

For dessert, we had the caramelized bananas with coconut ice cream, which was sheer heaven. Not too sweet, it was a subtle blend of melted brown sugar, gently braised bananas and delicately flavored ice cream with just the right amount of coconut flavor.

We also sampled Selaks ice wine from New Zealand, described on the menu as "a very sexy dessert wine - honey and lemon zest finishing long and lush; the hair on the back of your neck will tingle." It was light, too, and a perfect way to end a wonderful dinner.

 

Long Tan [196 Fifth Ave. at Berkeley Place, (718) 622-8444] is open daily for dinner . Entrees range from $8 to $13. Long Tan accepts Visa and MasterCard.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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