Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Another day, another Asian restaurant. The "Lemongrass Asian Bistro" is not part of the national Lemongrass chain but locally owned, and the food's pretty good, especially the pot stickers.
We visited Lemongrass twice this month, once for lunch and once for dinner. We arrived to find a comfortable place with an aesthetic we like to refer to as Early Whimsical: a mostly unassuming and straightforward design with the occasional weird flourish. We don't consider this a bad thing; quite the contrary. Our mind still sometimes turns to the bizarre layout of framed butterflies on one wall, which we couldn't quite interpret. But it isn't boring.
As to the food, it's mostly solid stuff. On our first visit, a lunch trip, we started off with the pot stickers appetizer, then moved on to the basil chicken and the Mongolian beef from the "lunch combos" menu.
The pot stickers? We could eat our weight in them. They're pan-fried, crispy on the bottom, and served with what they call "pot sticker sauce," which is short on information but pretty tasty nonetheless. Our entrees were likewise well done, not overcooked or oily, as badly done Asian food so often is. We were quite surprised over the Mongolian beef, in fact, as small cuts of beef are easy to turn into shoe leather, but we found the dish to be anything but. Our companion's basil chicken entree was likewise cooked with a fair bit of skill, savory and just spicy enough to suit.
You can specify how many "stars" of spiciness you want in your food, as is common with American Thai restaurants. Our companion, not a huge fan of hot food, asked for one star, while we went for three (not minding a fair amount of heat), and we were both very happy with what they brought us.
The only downside to our experience was the wait for our entrees — it took longer than you'd expect. We weren't in a rush, so it didn't weigh heavily against Lemongrass, but if we'd been on a lunch break, we'd have been irritated.
Dinner a few days later was, unfortunately, worse. We went back for more pot stickers (just as good as before) and some vegetable summer rolls (also very good, cool and light and crunchy). A good start. But our wait for the entrees was even longer, and we have our suspicions here.
We went with another spicy basil dish, this time the duck, and it's our belief that the hold-up was waiting for them to thaw the frozen duck breast. What they served us was overcooked and chewy, though the sauce was delicious and adequately spicy, and the vegetables were again perfectly cooked. Duck's easy to screw up, and non-frozen duck's a bit difficult (and expensive) to come by, but it isn't a meat you can afford to do poorly. Duck is as close to steak as fowl gets, and people tend to expect that experience, but ours was the consistency of cheap diner steak 'n' eggs.
Our companion went with the ginger beef and was likewise disappointed. Problem one: The beef was also overcooked and chewy. We're guessing that the troubles with getting the duck thawed and cooked may have been a contributing factor, but then there's problem two: You can't really taste ginger, at least not to an extent that you'd call it "ginger beef," a disappointment if fresh ginger is a favorite of yours.
On the whole, our opinion of Lemongrass Asian Bistro is that the food is on par with that of your average Pei Wei franchise: tasty enough and satisfying, a little Americanized for broader commercial appeal, but better and lighter on the gut than a Chili's or Cheddar's. That's a pretty good sweet spot to hit.
They still have some service wrinkles to iron out, and at least for now we'd steer you away from the more exotic menu items — if they couldn't get the duck right, then we're a little leery of the prawns. Though we're willing to concede the possibility that we caught them on an off night. It happens.
But if you're tired of the usual chain restaurant march of fried this and babyback that and Slammin' Jalapeño Flingers the other, and we know we are, then by all means, give them a try.
Sorry, but I don't see how a return visit is going to make those soft…