The nice thing about Berkeley is it’s about an hour away from San Jose, where Little Saigon is with all the good old Vietnamese food. The sad thing is Berkeley is *cluttered*, no space for parking, hence it’s impractical to have a car, hence if you want to go to San Jose, you can either get on and off five buses for a decent cost and risk missing your stops, or get a zipcar and have to bite your nails over how many hours you should spend hunting for food at the expense of the car, or quickly get over 25 years of age and rent a car at the local Enterprise, Hertz, and the like. Or hope that a friend with a car likes you and Vietnamese food enough to make the drive.
Because one Bánh Cuốn Tây Hồ mysteriously didn’t exist where Google Maps say it is, and another was closed, we ventured to Lemon Grass on Story Road for a Vietnamese lunch. It looks nice on the outside, and the inside too. I would go as far as saying this is how I’d like a Vietnamese restaurant to look, a notch above the common phở houses. Yelp’s reviewers don’t seem to approve of it, but arguably for the wrong reason. Yes, the service was slow, but the food was good. When rating a restaurant, food quality comes first. Just look how the lady immersed herself in the sensation of the hot pot.
We ordered bánh cuốn hồ Tây and cơm sườn nướng (rice grilled pork chop). The bánh cuốn turned out to be no bánh cuốn…
… just layers of soft rice sheets, eaten with nuoc mam pha, cha lua, and sprinkles of fried shallot. It’s bánh ướt (“wet banh”), no more, no less. If you’re interested in meat, don’t order it. Even though the shrimp tempura is good.
Order cơm sườn nướng instead! So, this could just be my craving for meat in an almost meatless, vegetarian, health conscious city where you can’t find a steak house, but this was the best grilled pork chop I’ve had in years! Sweet, salty, marinated, juicy, charred, aromatic, the flavor seeps throughout the meat. It’s not one of those huge chunk of pork you get at a supposedly upscale diner that only looks good on the outside but tastes like hay on the inside. If I didn’t have to retain some dignity in front of strangers, I’d have picked the bone.
Address: Lemon Grass Vietnamese & French Cuisine
1143 Story Road, San Jose, CA 95122
Update: more food during Second time at Lemon Grass