The sprawling menu of rolls, sashimi and rice and noodle dishes recalls the Chungaews’ successful formula for their earlier venture, Furin Japanese & Thai, which they operated in Delray Beach, Fla., for 15 years. Having recently sold that business, the couple started over again in February in the former location of Grand China at the corner of Highway 70 and Old Hickory Boulevard.
Charun mans the pretty dining room, finished in light, sleek woods with black and gold accents, where a sushi bar occupies one long wall. Natural light streams through the large room, and white tablecloths and chair slipcovers add a formal touch. Rattana toils in the kitchen, delivering a fresh bounty of dumplings, curries, panangs and noodle dishes.
On one lunch visit, we stuck with familiar Thai staples. Spring rolls were hot and crisp, filled simply with carrots, celery, soybean noodle and shredded cabbage. Seafood tom yum was slightly disappointing, with very little heat or lemongrass flavor in the broth and an overpowering flavor of fish sauce. An underwhelming medley of seafood bobbed in the dark broth, including a piece of crab stick, a rubbery coil of calamari and a flavorless scallop. But the single deveined shrimp avoided the pitfall of overcooking and was a tender, flavorful bite that spoke well for other shrimp dishes to come.
The fresh ginger with shrimp was a colorful and pretty meal with julienne strips of ginger, vegetables and generous-sized shrimp, but the broth failed to stick with the ingredients, leaving the overall flavor slightly thin. A better choice was the chicken panang with tender sliced chicken, sugar snap peas and broccoli in a red curry sauce with peanut butter and coconut milk.
Had we stuck with the tried-and-true, we likely would not have given Lemongrass a second thought. Not that anything was wrong with the experience—we’ve just got Thai selections closer to home. But a few slightly adventurous choices teased out the extraordinary quality and value of Lemongrass.
For starters, we particularly enjoyed Tiger Tear, a warm, spicy salad of shaved grilled beef with chili, lime juice, scallions and pink onion. The most memorable feature of the fresh dish was an intriguing, sandy sprinkling of crushed grains of uncooked rice, which added unexpected texture to the tender meat.
Based on that positive surprise, we sought out the most unusual items on the dinner menu. With Charun serving us, we could extract very little feedback about various items; he just smiled confidently and calmly as if to say, “It is all excellent, but, who knows, you may or may not like it.”
Frog legs basil was surprisingly delightful, even though I felt like I was eating the bottom half of a Ken doll. Far from the brutish quads of ribbiting weightlifters, Lemongrass delivered two pairs of delicate little legs fried in tempura batter and served with crisp peppers and carrots in a chili-tinged brown sauce, topped with whole leaves of Thai basil.
Equally dramatic was Volcano shrimp, a sculptural plate of butterflied jumbo shrimp broiled with the skins still on and served with broccoli, scallions and green beans in a brown sauce of pureed roasted garlic and chili. The colorful and dramatic plate resembled a pyramid of lobster tails.
Perhaps the simplest and most thrilling item we ordered was the grilled yellowtail jawbone, which arrived looking like a fishy boomerang, with pectoral and pelvic fins intact, and bathed in a sweet teriyaki sauce. In the dark restaurant, it was difficult to tell where the meat was, so after I dislodged with a fork everything I could see, I gnawed on the jaw as if it were a barbecue rib. My breach of etiquette was rewarded with immodest hunks of buttery sweet fish hidden in the crannies of the mandible, making this $7.50 delicacy one of the most affordable and exciting dining luxuries I have stumbled across.
While we did not venture onto the sushi menu, our experience at Lemongrass was so consistently fresh that we will look forward to sampling the sushi bar on a future trip.
(Oh, the distance between Tokyo and Bangkok is about 2,860 miles.)
Lemongrass Sushi & Thai serves lunch and dinner daily.
Wildly popularTokyo to Seoul is a little closer—just about 720 miles—but not as close as the sushi and the bi bim bob at Wild Wasabi, where the Kim family has recast the former Omikoshi restaurant in the ground floor of Cummins Station. This cheery little eatery fronting 10th Avenue includes a Japanese-style hibachi grill and sushi bar, as well as a menu of specialties from the Kims’ native Korea.
The bright room accented with contemporary wood panels and rice-paper lanterns buzzes with lunchtime activity, as the entrepreneurial crowds at Cummins Station line up for the efficient all-you-can-eat buffet. Far from the temple-pounding techno-filled cave of RuSan’s lunchtime sushi buffet down the road, Wild Wasabi offers a well-lighted place where Sinatra tunes waft calmly over the stainless steel ventilation hood of the hibachi grill.
Ten bucks buys all you can eat from a gem-colored array of sushi rolls, a hot bar, miso soup, salad with ginger dressing and the hibachi grill. The nigiri sushi pieces—salmon, shrimp and red snapper—were deliciously fresh and made in a size that could be eaten easily in one bite. Not only did the smaller portions save us the embarrassment of bulging cheeks, they allowed us to sample more of the creative rolls before we filled up on rice.
On our visits, the hot bar included a variety of stir-fried dishes, including noodles with vegetables and chicken with mushrooms. With steamed green beans, egg rolls, fried rice and tempura vegetables, among other things, the steam table would provide an adequate lunch on its own. But wait, don’t answer yet, you also get all-you-can-eat sushi and hibachi. If the grill is untended when you get there, load up on a few more nigiri; a chef will soon arrive to cook your choice of beef or shrimp with fresh vegetables.
In addition to the buffet, a sprawling menu offers approximately 45 specialty sushi rolls along with teriyaki dishes, rice bowls and noodles. We opted for the Japanese udon chicken, a plate of tender shaved chicken over thick fluffy noodles in a soy-based brown sauce. While the ingredients were fresh, the dish of chicken and noodles became quickly redundant. More interesting was the tuna bi bim bob, a Korean rice bowl topped with chunks of raw tuna, salmon and yellowtail, shredded lettuce, carrots and egg, served with a bottle of sweet and spicy chili paste. In one single bowl, the bi bim bob captured much of the diverse color, texture and flavor that makes Wild Wasabi’s buffet so enticing—but without the risk of over-eating.
Wild Wasabi serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (open to midnight Friday and Saturday). Lunch buffet is available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
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