Oh, here we go again. Another chapter in which I experience menu envy. This time, nobody should be surprised. We gave a Thai restaurant a stab, and frankly, I never know what to order when we’re trying Thai. I was reasonably certain that I’d enjoy whatever I got, and I certainly did, but somebody else at the table really had something amazing.
I’m deeply inexperienced with Thai food, and readers might have noticed that I have yet to feature a single entry from one of the ostensibly amazing restaurants from Atlanta’s culinary wonderland that is Buford Highway. Really, I just don’t know where to start or what to try, but I’ve half a mind to keep my ears open for some other local bloggers having a get-together on that side of town and see whether Marie and I might join them. The overwhelming consensus, however, is that what we have here in darkest Cobb County is Americanized and not very traditional. Lemon Grass, here in Marietta, still manages a few thumbs up from the locals, despite a carry-out menu full of letter/number combinations and little “pepper” icons for the hot dishes like every Americanized Chinese place in town that leaves a menu on your mailbox. I wonder whether these restaurants all get their tri-fold menus from the same printing company?
At any rate, my main experience with Thai food would be from the dearly missed Thai of Athens, which closed about three years ago. I haven’t seen my favorite meal there, salt and pepper suegai, on anybody else’s menu. On one occasion, my son and I successfully convinced his sister that our satay chicken was actually fried spider. Last I heard, QuikTrip was looking into building on the old Thai of Athens location. They should make them track down the former owner, a lovely woman who was friends with a girl I used to date, and get her recipe for iced tea as a concession for whatever zoning must be addressed on that site first.
This past week, it was our friend Samantha’s turn to choose something for us to do, and she suggested this place. She discovered it about six years ago. The restaurant itself opened in 1994 in a very neat little hidden area in the East Lake shopping center on 120, just outside the loop. The shopping center is, unusually, two separate buildings which curve away from each other and create a little outdoor plaza leading back to the small patch of woods behind the property. There’s a Wild Wings Cafe on one side that takes advantage of the architecture to create a “luau”-themed back patio, while Lemon Grass shies away from pedestrian traffic like a quiet, discreet oasis.
There were six of us for supper, and while my daughter was in some sort of mood and tried to bring everybody down with tweenage surliness, we all really enjoyed our meals. Marie and I tried the chicken tom yum soup and it was not at all bad, but I did not enjoy the lemon grass in the bowl at all. This proved to be the only disappointment of the evening. David had the traditional hot and sour soup and it was better than most of the bowls that I have tried at Americanized Chinese places. Neal and Samantha each had the coconut soup, and that was, clearly, the best of the lot. When I return, I am definitely having a bowl of that.
As for the entrees, Marie and my daughter and I split one of the chef’s specials, the pineapple duck curry. This is boneless duck cooked with coconut milk, pineapple, tomato, onions, basil and bamboo shoots in a curry sauce. I thought this was really terrific, and Neal, who had an order himself, agreed. We also shared a bowl of laad na rice noodles, with chicken cooked in a thick gravy with broccoli, carrots and mushrooms. I preferred the duck, but this was certainly quite nice. David had a beef salad, with ribeye served over a bed of lettuce, mint leaves and cilantro that he enjoyed, but Samantha, who knew exactly what to order, brought the best thing to the table. She had the nam sod. This is prepared in a similar way to larb, but it mixes finely ground pork with ginger, peanuts and onions with lime juice and it’s served with raw cabbage, the idea being that you can use that for a wrap or just scoop the pork mixture onto it. They hide this treat away on the appetizers menu when I would happily enjoy that as my entree.
My daughter eventually explained that she was grumpy because she concluded that she was going to starve to death because everything here was going to be too spicy for her. I’m pleased to report that she is still alive, liked the laad na noodles, and most of our meals were only lightly spiced. The menu, incidentally, offers five levels for diners: mild, medium, hot, Thai hot and “crazy hot.” They add that crazy hot is not recommended. I’ve rarely been the sort of person to listen to that sort of recommendation, but when sharing dishes with family and friends, it’s polite to not make them suffer the way you’d sometimes like to burn yourself. Maybe some other time.