Located on the corner of Kuakini and Hualalai Rd (formerly “La Pasta”, across from the 76 station), Lemongrass beckons with stimulating paint colors and creative Thai-styled menu items.
There’s parking galore, and the plant and umbrella-bedecked dining lanai is available for hushed conversationed meals. Today’s Babe cluster chose the cooler confines of airconditioning and a direct assault of riotous-hued walls. High ceilings and hardscaped floors equate to neighboring banter reverberating around the intimate room like a bouncing tennis ball. Besides four tables along one wall, there are two counters with barstools that allow for multiple seating. At 12:30, the restaurant was packed as word has apparently spread via the ‘coconut wireless’.
It was difficult for me to concentrate on the menu as my eyes kept wandering around the room, drinking in every thoughtful detail. Lemongrass Green and Tamarind Orange remained the dominant tones, dotted with surprises of fuschia, purple and lemon yellow splashed around via flowers, light sconces and assorted decorative paraphernalia. I felt as though I were sitting smack in the middle of a David Hockney painting.
Casey, our server, was efficient and helpful with menu choices convincing us to try the Lemongrass-Pandan Juice Iced Tea ($2.50). Pandan juice is made from leaves of the pandanus tree – screwpine – and the essence is somewhat floral with pine/citrus overtones. This was coupled with lemongrass to produce an interesting concoction. Most of us agreed that we probably would not order it again, as Carol appropriately put it: “It’s just not my cup of tea”. I recognized the flavor that is sometimes used in Asian curries as an enhancement.
Lemongrass lunch specials are $8.95 and include steamed rice and a cup of soup – today’s offering was “Chicken Ton Yum” served in a coffee mug –mildly spicy and invigorating with bits of mushroom, tomato, onion and chicken in a lemongrass-citrus broth.
As we waited for our lunch selections, the conversation strayed towards Carol’s smooth and stylish hair. She revealed that a new Keratin-Brazilian Organic Therapy product at Wal*Mart was responsible for her shiny tresses. At $15.95 for a treatment that supposedly lasts 30 days, the store couldn’t keep the product in stock. Kona is humming with humidity-buzzed manes and their owners who constantly seek the miracle treatment that will make their lives easier by amply shortening one’s grooming time at the mirror. If you are fortunate enough to find and use the new sensation, be sure to heed Carol’s warning: READ DIRECTIONS THOROUGHLY AND DO NOT OVERSATURATE HAIR STRANDS!!
A recent PBS documentary entitled “Buddha” was reviewed in depth for us by Mei, who like most of the Babes, is an avid public tv viewer. We agreed that some of the best programming can be found on public channels and PBS deserves support by the community to keep them in existence. For more information on the Buddha program and to get a little zen in your schedule, see the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/
We also reflected on numerous shopping deals to be had in sunny Kailua-Kona for intrepid bargain hunters, as Mei showed off her new purse find, which was displayed in all her coordinated splendor.
Newly situated on Alii Drive, Cindy’s oceanfront palace (just kidding Cindy!) has drawn gawkers – driving by and on foot – to approach her for a tour of her fabulous home. Although flattering, these requests could become a bit worrisome by all the attention of papparazzi – er, passerbys. Of course, the Babes would be concerned if we were not allowed ‘first dibs’ on any home tour, however that would be difficult to explain to an eager jogger, who would hope to catch the homeowners in a jovial and giving mood. In an effort to defer growing curiosity, Cindy has placed her beloved effigy of a large German Shepard on the front porch, and it’s so realistic, that I almost rear-ended a car in front of me while twisting my head to get a better look. She laughingly admitted today that her husband put a lei and straw hat on the “dog” in honor of King Kamehameha Day in Hawaii. All that’s missing is a cigar and a deck of cards (aka Cassius Coolidge).
Finally, Lemongrass Kalbi Pork (Mei’s choice) arrived on a nest of soft vermicelli noodles and kimchee vegetables. The white ceramic plate (great backdrop to display colorful food) was drizzled with a soy-ginger-garlic sauce, complemented by a sweet ginger-chili sauce. Tender pork strips were topped with shredded cabbage, sliced green scallions and toasted sesame seeds. This Kimchee version held hints of the pungent Korean-style flavoring yet was pleasantly tempered with – what else- lemongrass, which imparted a more pleasant finish on the palate.
When I spotted Cindy’s Pan-Seared Salmon set in front of her, I thought someone forgot to include the vegetables. In fact, two pieces of salmon filet were hiding a trove of sautéed veggies, cached on one side of the plate next to a mound of steamed rice. It was then that I realized there is a clever foodie-artiste in the kitchen who chose to highlight a wave of Red Coconut Curry Sauce surging out from under an island of savory sockeye.
Crispy Orange Chicken served with sweet onion, bell pepper and shredded cabbages in a mildly sweet chili sauce, was set in front of Carolyn, who thoughtfully offered a table tasting. Chicken pieces were breaded in a tempura style batter and lightly deep-fried, remaining tender and able to stand alone as a menu item. The addendum of luscious Orange Glaze that delicately wrapped each chicken nugget amplified the ‘wow’ factor.
Chicken Katsu is – chicken katsu – until you’ve had the Lemongrass version. The aforementioned chunks of tempura-battered poultry were plated on a bed of shredded cabbage and crispy iceberg lettuce. In lieu of the previously described orange glaze, this Katsu adaptation was drizzled with creamy tamarind sauce and piquant black bean jus. Carol was appropriately starstruck.
“Did you say Samba Beef?”, I queried in surprise. Met with a patient smile, I was jokingly chastised and gently corrected by Casey, our attentive server. Her urging to try the Sambol Beef paid off in spades, and I vowed that I would return again to sample more of the chef’s inspired offerings. Tri-tip steak strips are breaded in rice flour and flash fried to retain tenderness and flavor, then glazed with a spicy umami-sweet chili sauce. An interesting texture results from the convergence of sizzling beef heaped on crispy iceberg lettuce, and you can’t quite believe the rush of flavor that leaves you dazed and slightly confused by the delectable assault. I offered tastings, however sparingly!
More conversation ensued as we polished off the remains of lunch. Carolyn displayed smears of white paint, still clinging to her forearms like badges of war. She has undertaken a large renovation project to enlarge the master bedroom to a master suite, complete with lanai and wood-burning stove, which will be greatly appreciated during cool evenings at her home’s location on Mt. Hualalai.
With no news to report on my end of the planet, I wandered off to the restroom for a looky-loo. As I passed through the kitchen, I thanked the sole Chef for his creations, and he directed me through another dark room that contained a large icemaker. The bathroom door was in this room and I could barely make it out except for a sliver of sunlight that came through another partially opened door.
Clean and tidy, but lacking the rainbow vibrancy of the restaurant, I snapped my photo and returned to the kitchen, where Le Chef looked at me quizzically, probably wondering if I even found the bathroom. I wanted to tell him to turn on some lights and paint the walls so that the journey to relief would be as delightful as the eating experience in the next room. Staring at a large cleaver in his hand, I smiled and quickly escaped back to the lively dining room.
We settled on $14 each and piled out towards the dining lanai facing the front parking lot (there is more parking in the back of the building). There were pots of lemongrass, recently trimmed for cooking purposes, growing out front. This will be a definite return for us, and we highly recommend it - as it is EXCEPTIONAL, and they transport Thai food to a higher level.
75-5742 Kuakini Hwy, Ste 103
Open Daily for lunch (11-3) and dinner (5-11)