For those of you who frequented the previous incarnation of Lemongrass on Baymeadows, have been fans of Libby’s in St Augustine, or enjoyed the elegance of Galangal so many years ago, you are in for a treat: The newly opened Lemongrass Thai Bistro, with its warm, colorful, comfortable and inviting décor, is the latest gem in a line of memorable and well-regarded Thai restaurants owned and operated by Phet Thompson.
With a culinary heritage that spans more than thirty years, coupled with an enviable following of patrons who are loyal advocates, it’s safe to say Ms. Thompson knows a thing or two about running successful restaurants.
Originally from Laos, and one of twelve siblings, Thompson says there were always Thai and Lao dishes being prepared at home. While growing up, her oldest sister – Joanne Inthavong (the chef at Lemongrass) – was the one who helped her mom keep their sizable family well fed. Having learned all the secrets behind Thai cuisine during this time, coupled with the undeniable talents that Thompson brings to restaurant operations, the culinary contributions these sisters are making in Jacksonville continues to be impressive.
Seeking an enjoyable wine and food duo, our agenda started with a bottle of Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – a Lemongrass house favorite that displays vibrant acidity with notes of passionfruit, melon and grapefruit – paired with the Lemongrass Yum Salad – a fresh, bright and flavorful salad featuring grilled flank steak, a chili lime dressing, fresh lemongrass, julienned bell pepper, carrots and onion, which was thoroughly enjoyable.
Intrigued by the menu, we agreed that a number of additional dishes warranted further inspection. Shamelessly, we added Toam Kha Gai (soup), Thai Bangin’ Shrimp, Crispy Pork Spring Rolls, and Blue Crab Rangoons (starters), Ginger Infused Salad, as well as Crispy Duckling (a Lemongrass specialty) to our selection.
In order to make sure we did not overlook anything truly amazing, we asked Thompson what she believed was the best dish on the menu. When it was offered that the Sea Bass (another Lemongrass specialty) was her favorite, and by far the favorite of many of her patrons, we added this to our list of “must-try” dishes. (An interesting side note: we also learned that, when not working, Thompson’s favorite dish is a burger from Five Guys.)
We were delighted at every turn. We marveled at the artful presentations and were amazed by the richness of flavor that accompanied every dish.
Believing a more substantial red wine would stand up better against the duck, and perhaps some of the other dishes, we also paired our selections with a bottle of Meiomi Pinot Noir.
This blend of coastal grapes from Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma vineyards is a rich red wine that offers aromas of jammy fruit, mocha, vanilla, and toasty oak. On the palate, it displays multiple flavors, including boysenberry, blackberry, dark cherry, strawberry, and toasty mocha. When paired, it was obvious that the richer flavor of the Crispy Duck as well as the intensely spiced green curry that accompanied the Sea Bass demanded a more substantial wine such as this.
While there were many more dishes on the menu that begged for attention (apparently The Amazing (peanut curry sauce) is, well, amazing), we did not want to appear overly gluttonous. This being said, we learned that some of the ethnic influences that played a role in the Lemongrass menu came from Phet Thompson’s home country of Laos. Our curiosity about Lao flavors and recipes was obvious, and we were treated to even more: this time a special Lao version of the Laab Chicken (salad) that included banana buds as one of its more intriguing ingredients.
For the uninitiated (like us), banana buds, also known as banana blossoms, are the purplish flowers that hang at the end of banana clusters. When used as a culinary ingredient, they are eaten raw, pickled, or soaked in lime juice and are added to soups, curries and salads.
Should you share a curiosity for Lao influenced dishes, Thompson suggests calling in advance and making a special request. She and her culinary team are more than happy to indulge the curiosity of their patrons. Even when it comes to degrees of spice or unfamiliarity with Thai curries, the staff at Lemongrass have been trained to help diners make selections they will surely enjoy.
The bottom line is that the food and wine at Lemongrass were far more enjoyable than anything we had anticipated. We even learned there is a proper way to consume Crab Rangoons – just ask Phet Thompson for a demonstration.
Lemongrass Thai Bistro, 14866 Old St Augustine Road, Jacksonville, FL, 32258, (904) 647-5043.
Pair it with:
Meiomi Pinot Noir
Grapes: Monterey 60%; Santa Barbara 23%; Sonoma 17%.
Description: A rich garnet color with a ruby edge, the wine opens to reveal lifted fruit aromas of bright strawberry and jammy fruit, mocha, and vanilla, along with toasty oak notes. Expressive boysenberry, blackberry, dark cherry, juicy strawberry, and toasty mocha flavors lend complexity and depth on the palate. The well-integrated oak provides structure and depth seldom seen in Pinot Noir.
The name Meiomi means “coast” in the language of the native, coastal dwelling Wappo and Yuki tribes, and best pays tribute to and symbolizes the origin of this Pinot Noir. Meiomi is a high style Pinot Noir that is shaped, more than anything else, by the fruit sources that lay the foundation of the blend. This is a purebred enjoyment wine that unifies California’s most noteworthy coastal areas.
Aged in 100% French oak to allow the sweet and structural influences from the oak to mingle seamlessly with the rich fruit and ripe tannins, Meiomi Pinot Noir has a consistent profile of supple tannins, silky texture, and balanced acidity that makes it the perfect wine to enjoy with a wide array of food.