The restaurant Lemongrass, which was farther south on South Grand Boulevard until a few years ago, is in two storefronts on a corner, and has a large area in front for outdoor dining when the weather returns to clemency. (Though until last summer's surprising mildness, Joe insisted there were only nine days a year when St. Louis was sufficiently clement.) Inside, it's simple and warmly lit, with plenty of servers zooming around. The menu is surprisingly large, and veers over into the kitchen's take on Chinese food as well—General Tso's chicken, anyone?
In light of that, we investigated its version of wonton soup. And we were glad we did, too. Small dumplings of pork and shrimp wrapped in thin, delicate dough lolled about in a bowl of chicken broth that would have been remarkable even sans wontons, so full-flavored was it. And the wontons themselves were tender and meaty, delicately seasoned and not overcooked, all in all a fine bowl of soup on a winter night.
On the other hand, a Vietnamese pancake, or bah xeo, seemed greasy and its filling consisted mostly of bean sprouts with an occasional bit of shrimp and slightly more chicken. The promised lemon sauce turned out to be nuoc cham, the usual tart-sweet-salty dipping sauce. The outside of the pancake was crisper than we've usually come across, a pleast touch but not enough to save it from forgettability.
From the entree list of rice platters came lemongrass shrimp. Most dishes in this category, incidentally, are offered as rice platters or dinners, the latter being about $3 more. The difference? “They're bigger,” said our server with a shrug. Our shrimp were small but sweet, not overcooked, and were accompanied by green and white onions and a few carrots. The flavor was predominantly lemongrass, with a very light hit of chilies, and the sauce had plenty of tiny bits of minced lemongrass itself, whose texture reminds one of a very chewy coconut, quite fibrous.
In several dishes, the menu speaks of something mysteriously described as brown sauce. Pork with mushrooms and baby corn in brown sauce proved to be a winner, with first-rate pork, tender and full of pigalicious flavor, baby straw mushrooms (which don't, of course, look like straws, but more like wee dwarf caps) and pieces of corn in a sweet-and-tangy brown gravy that put the pork flavor even more in the foreground. Altogether, a first-rate dish.
No time for our usual Vietnamese coffee or the desserts Lemongrass offers, like sweet potato flan or bananas, either broiled or in a pudding, since we were off to a theater in the neighborhood. Next time.
3161 S. Grand Blvd.
Lunch & Dinner, Tues.-Sun
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair