By Jeffrey Spear • Photos by laird
Lemongrass Thai Bistro, established in 2003, is one of those remarkable Jacksonville restaurants that has endured despite unprecedented challenges. When you consider its impeccably presented Thai cuisine, attentive service, and full-service bar with a focus on premium wines, it becomes easy to understand how this stalwart restaurant has maintained a loyal following for so many years and continues to impress newcomers.
A quick glance at the menu reveals many of the traditional Thai dishes that aficionados might expect from a Thai restaurant including appetizers such as Crispy Blue Crab Rangoons, Bangin’ Shrimp, and Shrimp Pot Stickers; several curries including a peanut version called “The Amazing” that lives up to its self-assured name; and a variety of noodle and rice dishes including Pad Thai, Spicy Drunken Noodles, and Basil Fried Rice. While all these dishes are undeniably delicious and quite popular, it’s the specialties that are the real showstoppers.
Upon arrival, and before getting too distracted by these alluring choices, a selection from their cocktail menu is a good way to launch your dining adventure. While the Thai Chili Margarita (Casa Noble silver tequila, orange liqueur, Thai chili-infused simple syrup, sour mix, and fresh-squeezed lime juice) or Laotian Sunset (Svedka pineapple/mango vodka, mango puree, sour mix, Thai chili-infused simple syrup, and a splash of grenadine) are easy to drink and will set you off in the right direction, there are many more exotic creations to choose from. Alternatively, you might prefer a more traditional cocktail from the restaurant’s well-stocked bar.
The wine list at Lemongrass should not be overlooked. According to Phet Thompson, general manager and CEO, “We say Lemongrass is a traditional Thai restaurant elevated by better wines. It’s something more than you’d expect.” When asked about staff that could help with selections, she continues, “There’s always someone on premise to help you find the right wine. We’re happy to help.”
Getting back to the dishes, feast your eyes on the house specialties. While one of each, coupled with all of the other dishes on the menu we wanted to try, would have been a wonderful experience, we were not prepared to take on a culinary marathon of epic proportions. Using a little bit of restraint, our attention was appropriately focused on the Massamun Beef Short Ribs. Featuring fork-tender boneless short ribs simmered in a massamun curry reduction served with sautéed baby bok choy and steamed jasmine rice, this dish had us begging for more. Executive Chef Carlos Valotha tells us, “This dish is relatively new to the Lemongrass menu. While we like to keep things traditional, we also like to create dishes that offer a little something special.”
If you’re looking for something beyond curry, you won’t go wrong with the Lemongrass Seafood Montage (shrimp, scallops, calamari, and mussels sautéed in house-made Thai chili paste along with onions, bell peppers, and Thai basil), LG’s Crispy Duck (cooked twice—roasted boneless marinated duck is lightly floured and fried to crispy perfection—then topped with sautéed assorted vegetables in a savory brown sauce), Lemongrass Signature Filet (a nine-ounce filet mignon seasoned with lemongrass and house seasoning, grilled to your liking, served with sautéed baby bok choy and Thai fried rice, and topped with lemongrass-infused butter), or their Panko Crusted Grouper (an eight-ounce filet lightly dusted with flour and coated in panko breadcrumbs fried to a crispy finish and served in a traditional red curry reduction sauce with sautéed baby bok choy and carrots and topped with fried baby spinach). Every one of these is stellar.
There were several wines that were recommended to accompany our dining extravaganza. Since our meal would include fish and seafood as well as beef and duck, we asked about both white and red varietals that would pair well with everything. The recommended white was a bottle of The Prisoner 2019 Carneros Chardonnay; the red a Schrader Cellars 2018 Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon. To our delight, each wine was a perfect match.
The thing that impressed us most about Lemongrass was the way it demonstrated just how good a Thai restaurant can be. From the innovative and exotic cocktails, remarkably good wines, and array of creatively conceived dishes that are flavor forward and completely enjoyable, along with the warm and friendly service we received from all our servers, everything contributed to a noteworthy and memorable dining experience.
Located on Old St. Augustine Road close to Philips Highway, a visit to Lemongrass Thai Bistro is a delightful adventure. It’s important to note that Lemongrass now features an outdoor patio for patrons who prefer a fresh air setting. Whether indoors or out, midday, afternoon, or evening, a meal at Lemongrass is sure to please.
Lemongrass Thai Bistro, 14866 Old St. Augustine Rd., (904) 647-5043, jacksonvillethaibistro.com.
Get the recipe for Lemongrass Signature Filet here.
Pair it with: Double Diamond 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon
Description: This Cabernet Sauvignon is crafted by winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown in the Schrader Cellars tradition of making the best Cabernet Sauvignon that Napa Valley can offer.
A harmonious integration of decadent fruit, refined structure, and exotic spice components. In the glass, the wine possesses a dark plum-purple hue. Intriguing aromatic notes of Mexican chocolate, nutmeg, brambly fruit, spearmint, and violets swell from the glass in concert. The mouthfeel is voluptuous, sleek, and inviting, while also exhibiting a silky tannin profile to provide a complex framework. Rich palate notes suggest black currant, blackberry reduction, leather, crushed rock, and allspice. This wine is enjoyable today, but with 3-5 years in the cellar it will develop into an even more beautiful expression of the vintage.