kitchen (2007-42)

Thai High

Urban Renewal

This Maryville import brings fresh Thai flavors

Lemon Grass ⢠9117 Executive Park Drive ⢠539-8059 by Gay Lyons

Iâ’ve been hearing good things about Lemon Grass in Maryville for years but never made it over there. Since the Knoxville location opened recently, Iâ’ve tried the Thai cuisine for dinner and the sushi for lunch. My expectations were high, but Lemon Grass didnâ’t disappoint.

The restaurant feels upscale but not formal. The tables have white cloths, but they are glass topped for quick and easy cleaning. The service area and sushi bar are covered with a striking aqua pagoda. The music is soft, and votives add to the ambience in the evening.

Lemon Grass has plenty of offerings without overwhelming diners. In addition to appetizers and soups, there are noodle, rice, and curry dishes in the $9-10 range and Chefâ’s Specials, which are slightly higher priced at $14-$16.

I could easily have ordered from the list of appetizers (golden cups, satay, fish cakes, spring rolls, and more) alone, but we selected fresh basil rolls and one of the soups, Tom Kha Kai, and moved on to entrees. We splurged on two of the Chefâ’s Specials, roast duck with red curry and scallops in chu-chee curry cream sauce, but I had a hard time passing up eggplant with spicy bail sauce.

The slightly chilled basil rolls, which consist of shrimp, basil, and slender rice noodles in rice paper, had a fresh flavor that was perked up by the pungent plum sauce, a better than average version with bits of peanuts. The coconut milk soup, accented with mild touches of ginger and lime, held thin chicken strips and lots of fresh mushrooms.

The entrees were attractively presented. The roast duck slices were topped with pineapple chunks, red and green pepper slices and skinny kaffir lime leaves. The half moons of roma tomato at either end didnâ’t add anything to the dish, but the duck was perfectly cooked: tender lean slices with crunchy edges. The soft, browned scallops were served atop minced red and green peppers and sauteed spinach. The curry sauces were tasty but mild; however, theyâ’ll turn up the heat upon request.

The dessert menu lists several enticing options (fried banana, fresh mango with sticky rice, green tea ice cream), but we decided on Thai roti with blackberry sauce. Our serverâ’s response was â“good choiceâ”â"and he was correct. The delicate, slightly warm crepe, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with tangy cold blackberry sauce, which our server Yordan cut into eight pieces at the table, was a light sweet end to the meal.

We noticed no one seemed to be ordering sushi the night we were there for dinner, so my daughter Liz and I went on a sushi mission a few days later. There were a couple of daily specials, but we selected two items from the menu: crazy tuna roll and shrimp tempura roll. We also ordered miso, Tom Yun Kung, and cheese rolls.

Both soups were good. The silky miso was full of spinach and lots of tiny tofu cubes. The Tom Yun Kung, filled with lemon grass, shrimp, and plenty of mushrooms, had a slightly spicy taste that grew progressively hotter, especially when down to the last few spoonfuls of broth. The hot, crispy pillow-shaped cheese rolls lightly filled with crab, cream cheese, and carrots were served with a thick clear sauce with just the right proportion of sugar and vinegar.

The crispy shrimp and cucumber tempura was attractively presented in the middle of two rows of crazy tuna roll. The tempura was fine, but the tuna roll was an outstanding combination of tuna, salmon, cucumber, and avocado topped with spicy crunchy tuna. The tuna roll was complemented with just enough drops of a dazzling spicy golden sauce to tease the tongue but not dominate the other flavors.

Service was excellent. We were served by Yordan both times, and he could not have been more attentive: filling glasses, serving rice, packing leftovers. He was also good-natured and able to answer my questions about dishesâ"except once. The sushi chef is understandably tight-lipped about the sauce that accompanies the crazy tuna roll.


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