A glass wall of cascading water soothes, translucent textile screens hang from the heavens above the server’s station. So calming was the atmosphere, that as I sat in a booth awaiting my order, I wished I wasn’t preparing to pay for a dinner to-go.
Was I really on the outskirts of a strip mall?
Between the atmosphere and food, a bit of nirvana is to be found in Uwajimaya plaza. If you’re craving Pho, the ubiquitous Vietnamese noodle soup, you’ve got plenty of solid choices in Renton. If you want to extend your culinary travels, say to the specialties of Hue, Da Nang, or the Central Coastal reaches of Vietnam, Lemongrass Renton offers more obscure dishes, than the original location on 12th Ave, Seattle; which has apparently simplified its menu. I’m genuinely thankful for restaurants that feature authentic cooking and challenging dishes.
I started with Shrimp Cake Salad Rolls (Chao tom cuon $3.95), a delicious variation on fresh rolls. Rice paper wrapping encircles compressed shrimp cakes, along with julienned carrot, cucumber, lettuce served with nuoc mam cham, the traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce. My husband devoured these, licking his fingers.
Another exotic treat was Goi ngo sen, or Lotus Root Salad ($8.95). I was tantalized by my first introduction to young lotus root, a miniature version of what I’ve used in curries. These white tubes have holes in them the size of a pin head, rather than a pea. Lightly pickled, they are crunchy, mild and exotic. Combine this with strips of pork, blanched shrimp halves, crispy shallots, chopped peanuts, cilantro, red onion slivers, carrots, the distinct flavor of rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) and white fungus, which texturally reminded me of jellyfish! This menu is full of fresh surprises.
Our favorite dish was Turmeric coconut rice cakes ($) or Bahn Khot. These mini “pancakes” are made golden with ground turmeric and shaped from coconut milk and rice flour. Each cup held shrimp and scallions, and comes with a platter of lettuce, basil, and mint meant for wrapping and dipping these tasty cakes in more nuoc mam cham. A delight.
Don’t be surprised if the Combination Meatball Platter ($14.95) or Nem nuong Ninh Hoa khay, comes with meatballs of a different shape. These resemble keftes, the oblong Middle Eastern kebabs. Deliciously porky, the finely ground croquettes exhibit grill marks, and are placed with crisp cigarette-sized “egg rolls”, along with vermicelli noodles, cucumbers, and beansprouts. I also discovered several tubs in my take out bag of a most delicious condiment. This was like a creamy Vietnamese aioli, tamarind in color.
The only miss was the BBQ Quails (2 for $6.50) which were fragrant with spice, but completely dried out. This is the only dish for which I wouldn’t readily return. Next time I do, I will be definitely ordering the Ten Rice Cakes ($7.95) which I saw a couple receive while waiting for my order. I didn’t know if there were ten rices involved--no, it’s ten individual rice cakes topped with shrimp, onions, and served with fish sauce. This was off the House Special Varieties section, which deserves more exploration.
My entire order was ready within 20 minutes, which allowed me to do some grocery shopping next door at Uwajimaya in the mean time. A win win situation...
365 S Grady Way, Renton, WA 98057
Sunday - Thursday 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Friday - Saturday 10:00 AM - 10:00 PM