Review: A mouthful of zesty flavors at Lemongrass during Dining Weeks

Grab a bite to eat at Lemongrass before Downtown Dining Weeks in Syracuse comes to a close.

Only one week remains for Syracuse Dining Weeks, the Downtown Committee's enterprising solution to the mid-winter restaurant lull. Venturing out in the frigid night to eat somewhere that requires a bit more than the dining hall-sanctioned sweatpants and sweatshirt attire may not sound like a top priority, but don't write it off so fast. Until Feb. 29, delectable food at some of Syracuse's top-rated restaurants is available for $25 or less. You could buy two perfectly OK, but nothing special burrito bowls from Chipotle with that cash, or you could have filet mignon. In the immortal words of Donna from Parks and Rec: "Treat yo self."

An excellent treat for this freezing weather is a trip to Lemongrass, where the zing and heat of Pacific Rim Thai banishes any memory of cold weather. First opened 26 years ago, the restaurant, located at 238 W. Jefferson St., is a mainstay of Armory Square. Lemongrass prides itself on inventive and authentic Thai cuisine, and they certainly deliver.

A visit to a Thai restaurant without spring rolls isn't a real Thai experience. Lemongrass’s house special spring rolls are a great way to judge the kitchen’s take on this popular cuisine. The amalgamation of shrimp, pork, forest mushrooms and bean threads makes for an earthy, wholesome taste that pairs nicely with the provided dipping sauce. The sauce is the real show-stopper of this dish: sweet, spicy and tangy, in that order. It is thin and has a vibrant coral color, accented by small, julienned bits of carrot and chili flecks floating in it. The level of spice is just enough to brighten the flavors of the spring roll, and more than makes up for the slightly mushy consistency of the ingredients. The casing is expertly fried, flaky without being overwhelmingly greasy. A lettuce wedge is served alongside the rolls, the purpose of which eluded me. A solid pick for a first course.

Next, a salad of bitter greens, cherry tomatoes and raw, red onions is served to all who opt for the Dining Weeks menu. The salad comes with a choice of a peanut dressing or balsamic vinaigrette. It is rather on the paltry side in terms of portion size. Still, the greens are fresh and crunchy and the tomatoes are juicy. The vinaigrette is a bit of a muddy color, but a solid iteration of a classic dressing.

There are several entrée options, nearly all of which are hot and spicy. A call to “treat yo self” may lead you to examine the two filet mignon dishes, but consider instead the swordfish with lemongrass chili sauce. Made with a puree of three chilies, sautéed garlic and rice wine vinegar, this dish is bold in color and taste. The level of spice falls somewhere between mild and medium, but an ample helping of sticky jasmine rice will temper the intensity. The swordfish steak is of a good size, firm on the outside and succulently soft and briny within. Julienned bell peppers, lemongrass, baby bok choy and chili flakes add even more color to this vividly red dish. The sweet, spicy and tangy combination of flavors so adroitly pronounced in the spring roll’s dipping sauce is echoed and magnified in this dish. There is definitely a kick to this dish, but it is a delightful one.

Lemongrass’s Dining Weeks menu offers seven gluten-free and two vegetarian options. Dessert, beverages and gratuity are not included in the Dining Weeks pricing. The price of Lemongrass’s menu is $25. 

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