Sunday, November 15, 2009
Lemongrass in Eagle Rock
Lemongrass has very clean bathrooms. For some of you, that right there might tell you everything you need to know about this place (viz., Vietnamese food that's not ultra-authentic, and not served in an appropriately grimy location). But give it a chance, despite the spotless and tastefully decorated bathrooms.
It's kind of a mint-green nineties vibe in Lemongrass, with an unfortunately designed counter that has no overhang -- so there's nowhere for people sitting at the counter to put their knees. (You have to see it to understand. It's not a big deal, but I always notice this when I come here for some reason.) There are some Buddhas perched on shelves, some paintings of women in áo dài (those long single-piece dresses), wearing ón lá (those conical straw hats), black-and-white photographs of Vietnam, etc.
The menu is pretty simple, with the Vietnamese standards: spring rolls (decent), bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches - pretty good), bún (noodle) dishes (okay), rice dishes (I like the cơm tôm a lot), some so-so vegetarian dishes, and, of course, phở.
Mrs. Octopus is Vietnamese and is generally pretty picky and sparing with her praise for Vietnamese places around L.A. She thinks Lemongrass is okay. It'll do the job for her. She tends to have the phở bò chín nạc (well done beef) here, though, in L.A., she thinks the beef phở at Phở Cafe in Silverlake is better. Surprisingly, she thinks the phở gà (chicken) is better at Gingergrass (Silverlake). (More suprisingly, she hasn't yet been to the famous Golden Deli in San Gabriel (beef phở is the specialty there).) She generally doesn't get too excited about Lemongrass, but there have been weeks where we've been here three or four times: sometimes Mrs. Octopus just has to get phở into her system very quickly. I think it might be a medical condition for Vietnamese people.
Lemongrass is an easy and pretty reasonably priced option, and I find myself defaulting to this place all the time. The food seems pretty healthy, and I don't feel gross or greasy after eating it. I'm sort of addicted to a new special they have, the Lemongrass Chicken, which is in some kind of crazy tasty lemongrass salty sauce. I can't get enough of it.
Food isn't terribly expensive here, though Mrs. Octopus and other Vietnamese people tend to get upset when bánh mì costs more than three dollars (or two dollars) -- it's like $7.95 here. Lunch specials are cheap at $6.95. Dinner for two will probably cost between $25-$30. The owners are Vietnamese, and Mrs. Octopus suspects that the primary cooks in the kitchen are Vietnamese. There were many weird issues with service in the early days, but those issues seem to have been ironed out. They have a number of beers available, including some Vietnamese beers.
This place is fine if you don't feel like trekking out somewhere for *the best* Vietnamese food you could possibly find. That is, it's totally perfect for dinner on a Tuesday. It's not the kind of place you would go out of your way for.
Now, if you ever do feel like making a trip down the 405 to Little Saigon down in Orange County, here are some fantastic places Mrs. Octopus's parents have taken us to: Canton Restaurant (fish porridge and dill turmeric fish); Phở Dakao (phở gà); and Lee's Sandwiches (bánh mì).
Finally, a short Vietnamese lesson. Vietnamese, like Chinese, Thai, and other languages in Southeast Asia, is tonal. Vietnamese has six tones: flat, rising, descending, short descending, high breaking-rising, and mid dipping-rising (like an interrogative tone). The word phở has this last tone. Also, the "o" is not hard, as in "boat", but soft, as in "book". It sounds like "fuck" but without the "ck", and as if you were asking a question, sort of like "fuh?"