Cafe Society

Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill

To get a good meal in Northfield, first find yourself a child.

If you've got a rug monkey of your own, fantastic. If not, acquire one. Far be it from me to suggest something as gauche as kidnapping, but the little creatures are often running rampant through the carefully designed streets of the Stapleton development, and most of them are probably hungry.

If you're willing to bide your time, you could make one the old-fashioned way — by going somewhere for a few drinks, making eyes at a pretty young thing across the bar, retiring to the romantic love nest that is the bed of your F-250, waking up hung over, alone and wondering where your wallet went, and then, a couple of years later, discovering a bundle of joy who looks suspiciously familiar on your doorstep with a note pinned to her Winnie the Pooh snowsuit describing how mommy's just fucked off for the Leeward Isles with a professional sailboat racer and left little Suzy One-Nighter for you to raise. Or, if following all the hottest Hollywood fads is your thing, you could always adopt a kid from some ruined Third World country, give it a ridiculous name like Pax or Marmaduke and then use little Marmy as a walking, talking example of your dedication to the oppressed peoples of Myanmar or Kurdistan or whatever address is hot these days — as well as a way to get some decent grub.

Failing all that, you could do what I did: Find a friend who'll let you borrow his kid. Many people with three- and four-year-olds are surprisingly willing to let their children go off with marginally respectable characters like ex-cooks and restaurant critics. Often, they won't even ask when you're planning to bring their precious little nose-pickers back — so busy are they eyeing the front door and the clock, calculating exactly how much of happy hour they can still catch if they take a quick shower and don't waste time putting on underwear.

However you go about acquiring the child, once you have him, take him directly to Ling & Louie's Asian Bar and Grill. Grab a table, flag down a waitress and get the kid whatever he wants — dan dan noodles, crabcakes, a couple of rum-and-Cokes, a big bowl of candy, whatever — because you're going to be eating his official lunch: the children's teriyaki beef bento box.

The bento box is the perfect lunch or light dinner, the ideal expression of the comfort and convenience of Asian fast food, upscaled here for three-foot-tall Americans spoiled by excess and doting parents. The beef is tenderloin, seared quickly, tender as anything and tossed in a good, sweet/sour teriyaki glaze. The rice, mounded in its own compartment, is fluffed and just a little sticky. The chilled orange slices are a nice tease for the appetite, as are the fried noodles, cordoned off beside their own little compartment of sharp, vinegary, chile-spiked dipping sauce that tastes like Vietnamese nuoc mam without the fish. And every bento box comes with a full-sized bag of M&M's, which, when dinner is done, can be used to lure your rented child (by now probably all freaked up on sugar and menacing the other toddlers with a knife) out the door.

The bento box is the brainchild of owner Randy Schoch, who introduced it when what would grow into Ling & Louie's was just a small chain of restaurants with a couple of locations in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Southern California. Looking at his demographics and his competition, Schoch realized that kids and families were underserved in the market, so he kinked the company's focus in that direction — at young, quote-unquote adventurous eaters with a taste for Asian flavors who wanted something better than Happy Meals and cheeseburgers when they went out to eat. And it worked. Ling & Louie's, which opened in Northfield last year (at an estimated $2 million), is full of families, full of kids. The dining room seems constructed entirely of long, sensuous curves and live bamboo, the kitchen sealed behind an indoor waterfall tumbling down across pebbled glass. And not only is that bento box killer, but you can wash it down with a Mai Tai. Or four.

The story of Ling & Louie's could be used as an object lesson for college students studying immigration, population and demography. Schoch is an American-born industry brat and former surfer who was raised in Hawaii, surrounded by Asian cuisines and schooled in the kitchens and on the floors of restaurants around Waikiki. After graduating from college, he owned a couple of restaurants in Honolulu, then sold them, and he and a partner, Paul Fleming, went to work with Ruth's Chris. After Schoch bought him out, Fleming went on to found P.F. Chang's — the 800-pound gorilla of upscale Amerasian big-box dining. Schoch eventually sold his interest in Ruth's Chris, too, and entered into a joint partnership with Roy Yamaguchi, bringing his fancy-pants Pac-Rim concept to Arizona and California back when nobody thought it would ever fly. When Schoch sold his three Roy's restaurants to Outback Steakhouse in 2002, he founded Desert Island Restaurants and started opening Thaifoon restaurants, featuring the flavors he'd known since his surfing days in Waikiki. But the name proved limiting, since he wasn't opening Thai restaurants. He was opening Asian restaurants, and, more to the point, very American Asian restaurants, with echoes of both Yamaguchi and Fleming as well as floor tricks picked up from Ruth's Chris — a chain restaurant sired by chain restaurants.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan