Near my house is an area known as “Little Saigon”. I call it the best corner of eating in the city. It houses two amazing Sichuanese restaurants, arguably the best Vietnamese restaurant, an unbelievably good Malaysian restaurant, a beautiful MiW (Meat in Window) chinese barbecue place and at least 7 permutations of the name “Saigon Deli” all of which serve a mean bahn mi. However, last friday night we were looking for something cheap and simple, and it was late. Late meant bahn mi was out, simple meant we didn’t want to tempt ourselves with fancy Vietnamese and the concept that there would most likely be line. Malaysian was to pricey. So we selected a place none of us had been, Lemongrass Restaurant. It too is Vietnamese, but the prices were dirt cheap and the place was uncrowded. By uncrowded, I mean we were the only customers when we arrived (though a few take out orders were picked up while we were there).
As we browsed the menu, we were enticed by many of the options. Eventually we chose a jellyfish salad, because I love jellyfish and one of our dinners had never tried it before, a pork chop over broken rice, an order of summer rolls and the House Special Noodles. There was no specifics on what the noodles were–though they were cheap and called “house special” which enticed us. Usually, I pointed out, that means many kinds of meat and tasty. We ordered. The waiter left, then came back, clearly with instructions on what to say–not knowing that they were what we call “the magic words”. “Ehhhh, that dish?” He said hesitantly. “Its not…for…American tastes. You want something else?” Followed by the dive in “No we want that!” “That’s fine with us!” “Keep it ordered!” as we all assured him that this is what we wanted. The number one tip off that we want something is the adventure that ensues when we are told we don’t want it. I have always had great success with these dishes–especially at the Ghanaian restaurant in Chicago.
The jellyfish salad was great, as were the other two dishes. The house special noodle? Meh. I’m not really sure why they thought we wouldn’t like it, but it certainly didn’t have any offensive tastes in it. It was thick rice noodles with various meats (maybe some bit parts? not sure, couldn’t tell) in a sauce thick with coconut milk. It lacked too much flavor, but there was fish sauce (and soy sauce) on the tables, so that remedied that problem and it was a perfectly good dish. But not great. A dish with the tip off that wasn’t as good as hoped.
Overall the restaurant was cheap and fantastic, actually. The only reason I was at all disappointed was because the magic words were said and the dish that followed was average.