Restaurant Review: Lemongrass Fusion Bistro
The story of Lemongrass Fusion Cuisine says a lot about Columbus. Once a brash and hot new dining star in the explosively growing constellation of Short North restaurants, about a dozen years later it has the status of a mature establishment that can even be taken for granted.
That's what I was thinking recently as I trekked back into Lemongrass' heart-of-it-all digs. Having not been in a while, I wondered if the place would feel lively and fun again or simply outdated.
At first glance, not a heck of a lot seemed different. Those same autographed entryway photographs of Michael Moore and Viggo Mortensen from Lemongrass's glam-slamming earlier days were still hanging opposite its kicky little bar. And the restaurant proper had retained its theatrical look and vibe.
So there's the stage-like, trendily distressed wooden plank flooring; rainbow sherbet colored walls; a soaring ceiling; low and pleasant lighting; and even a few little roofed dining niches bounded by gauzy curtains. This dramatic setting naturally attracts a classic, non-conformist Short North-type crowd.
Lemongrass' food is as flagrantly off center as its freewheeling patrons and setting. Basically it's a lot of Thai accents merging with Mediterranean sensibilities.
For instance, the alluring Lemongrass Soup with vegetables ($4) was like a compelling collision between minestrone and Tom Yum soups. A light and brightly citric broth with chili, fish sauce and lemongrassy notes was filled with pasta shells and firm veggies like carrot, mushroom and zucchini.
An unusual, but pretty and pleasing Eurasian Salad ($7) combined shredded cheese with crispy Asian noodles, toasted almonds, pineapple, mandarin oranges and fresh greens. I liked its crunch and the way its unexpected tamarind-forward Worcestershire sauce-y dressing played off the fruit.
Lemongrass' huge menu includes lots of sushi, like the justifiably popular Lemongrass Roll ($12). With silky swaths of salmon and sweet BBQ eel draped over an inside-out spicy tuna roll accompanied by zingy sauces and garnishes, it managed to be delicious, fun and colorful without sounding too many bells and whistles.
Ditto for the excellent Pad Thai with Tofu ($12). I was especially fond of its healthier than usual wealth of multi-hued vegetables and lack of grease.
More one-note tasting was the Monsoon Shrimp ($16). It wasn't bad, but largely consisted of a mound of rice surrounded by lotsa shrimp and green beans swamped in a tidal wave of coconut milk. I would've liked its hints of chili and lemongrass to have been cranked up to balance out its milky sweetness.
A more-interesting coconut-milky dish was the Hawaiian Duck ($19). Italy met Asia on a veggie and fruit-heavy plate of pasta with big chunks of delicious, if uncrispy-skinned duck.
Seared Cajun Scallops ($19) were pretty terrific. A super-generous load of zesty spice-coated shellfish was beautifully browned and wonderful tasting.
Sure, Lemongrass' '90s-era cocktails don't excite and its large wine list contains many smart "best buy" selections that here, no longer are. And, yeah, a dessert like Fried Plantains (with upscale ice cream bar slices) is more fun than memorable.
But Lemongrass is still a fun, lively and intriguing eatery. If nowadays it's considered "just another Columbus restaurant," that only speaks volumes about our modern and great-eating city.
To read G.A. Benton's blog visit ColumbusDiningGuide.com
641 N. High St., Short North
Cuisine: Chinese & Asian
Price: $$ ($10-$20 per person)
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Monday, 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday