Lemongrass: Pho and Fusion Fit for a Mom

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When I visited Lemongrass last summer, I promised owner/sometimes chef/always waiter/emergency dish washer Khoa Nguyen that I would return in the winter for a bowl of the restaurant's pho. With the cold weather setting in last week, I figured it was the perfect time to make good on that promise.

Joining me for lunch was my mom, something that seemed to make Khoa a bit nervous. Despite the cooking-for-an-Asian-mother anxiety, Khoa managed to coax us into trying a splendid Vietnamese beef carpaccio. One of the great things about the restaurant is its ability to pull off "fusion." Although the owner shares my disdain for the word, "fusion" can't be completely avoided when describing the restaurant's menu. After all, spinach pasta shares space on the menu with bun thit nuong.

Lemongrass' beef carpaccio is a good example of the restaurant's ability to introduce a new twist to an old dish while maintaining its authenticity. As soon as Khoa appeared with the carpaccio, there was something very familiar about the dish, but also something new and exciting. The untraditional rib-eye steak carpaccio was in the style of a traditional Vietnamese goi, or salad, and was served with the customary goi accouterments of shrimp chips and fish sauce.

The twists and turns didn't stop with the starter. Instead of the customarily used round eye, Lemongrass' giant bowl of pho is served with thin slices of rib-eye steak. Seeing as how pho is a very regional dish, Khoa made a point to disclose that Lemongrass' version is of the southern Vietnamese variety. Although I prepared for the onslaught from my mother (she prefers her pho northern style), she surprised me by proclaiming, post-gulp, "Kristy, their pho is not bad!"

Aside from the pho, another dish I had long wanted to try was Lemongrass' banh xeo, which Khoa says is the restaurant's specialty. What was unique about the restaurant's version of the Vietnamese style crepe compared with the typical banh xeo was the grease factor -- or lack thereof. The usually oily dish almost seemed healthy. Wanting to know the secret to a crispy but non-greasy banh xeo, I asked Khoa if I could come back to the kitchen some time to share the recipe with the City of Ate readers.

So, next week, we'll be invited into the Lemongrass kitchen for a lesson in banh xeo 101.

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