Okay so I've been lurking around here for a bit and have picked up a number of ideas and info from you all so I thought I'd submit a short review of gingergrass, the Vietnamese Restaurant that has been previously discussed here, but which opened to the public on Tues 6/22. The SO and I live up the street and were on our way to the Last Remaining Seats downtown last night, so we turned up early, about 5:30 pm on Weds 6/23 only their second day open.
The restaurant is one big room, open and stylish with acid-washed floors, large cork installations on the wall, laminated (but sticky?) tables made of cork and wood strips, all done in neutral tones. There is an open kitchen under a huge chalkboard fronted by a central counter, presumably to accommodate takeout. The wait staff is new, very eager and still learning. We were asked many times by several people how everything was.
After seating ourselves, we received shrimp chips (light and airy) with housemade peanut sauce, described as a chips and salsa alternative as we pondered the paper menu. It contained 8 appetizers most of which are fresh or fried rolls, 4 salads, 3 pho soups, 4 noodle bowls and 5 entrees. There is a slim lunch plate and sandwich menu, and a handful of sides, including charred long beans, garlic morning glory (?) and taro root fries. Most menu items can be converted to vegetarian/vegan and tofu substition is offered. No beer/wine: one can get wine across the busy street, from Silverlake Wine, but I'd prefer a cold beer with this kind of food. We stuck with water, albeit in really cool glasses.
We went with the traditional crispy imperial rolls ($4.75) served with lettuce wrappers and nuoc cham dipping sauce and just for contrast, the fresh summer rolls with shrimp and pork ($3.95). The fresh rolls were elastic, each with a whole shrimp and fresh vegs, served with another housemade peanut sauce, dark and sweet - very good. The traditional rolls had nice fresh ingredients and the filling was good, but the wrapper itself was more gummy and chewy than crispy, though the dipping sauce was refreshing. I'm way disappointed in the wrapper though, as I've had outstanding imperial rolls elsewhere.
For an entree, SO had the lemongrass chicken ($9.75), a grilled breast marinated with lemongrass, chiles and scallions and served with nuoc cham again. Delicious and moist with a thigh bone attached, it was a high-quality and tasty piece of chicken, despite the missing scallions. It came with a side of sticky rice perfumed with coconut and gingerglass slaw. I was intrigued by both the caramelized shrimp ($10.95) and banana leaf fish, which was talapia steamed in banana leaves ($12.95), but settled on the shaking beef ($11.95). It came in chunks rather than the slices we enjoyed at the Slanted Door in SFO--but again, highest grade of beef, nicely done medium rare, moist and full of flavor. The sauce was smoky and rich with onions, shiitake pieces and slivers of not-too-hot red chile. My rice was broken jasmine: odd-shaped pieces with little flavor actually. The gingergrass slaw with each entree had a variety of bitter cabbage, onion, crispy veg and an occasional fruit piece, but little spice, oddly on the edge between sweet and savory, never quite making either, and strangely, no pronounced ginger! We didn't try the three dessert offerings, though the bread pudding with coconut custard sauce was enticing. By the time we left, there were four (of maybe 12-15?) tables occupied, most of whom were enjoying noodle bowls or pho, served with all the usual fresh accompaniments (cilantro, scallions, chiles).
The neighborhood, me and the SO included, have been anxiously awaiting this opening and I think the quality of the food, prep and presentation is high, the sauces are delicious; the chef, who worked at Indochine, knows what he's doing, and I'm confident the wait staff will align themselves as time goes on. I'm less sure about the restaurant's identity: it seems to be straddled between a hip casual takeout joint and a nicer, authentic dinner place. While I enjoyed the entrees, I guess I'd like to see them replaced by small plate choices (like at the Slanted Door), not because of the prices, but for more customization and sampling. Then I'd be comfortable stopping by on the way to a movie, ordering takeout, or having a friendly meal shared with adventuresome pals.
2396 Glendale Blvd
11am - 10pm
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