Nothing in the Rosemary Garden compound quite fits the name “Bistro”, there’s a chapel, a few stores across the parking lot with signs too far for me to read, a bakery that only takes order for wedding cakes, birthday cakes and Christmas cakes, and a restaurant big enough to host a small wedding banquet. Little Mom saw its ad in the local Vietnamese newspapers, and grilled alligator sounds good enough to make a trip across town.
My vegan intention was quickly thwarted, as expected in any Vietnamese or Korean restaurant, the few non-meat things available are all related to stir-fried bokchoy or eggplant. Little Mom eyed a few courses in the 9-course fish ($29.95), but you can’t get one without getting all nine, and she’s against fish spring roll while I’m against fish congee, so we flipped to the next page. Since Rosemary Garden is a làng nướng (grill village), it’s only appropriate that we meat-out and ignore the rice/noodles altogether (they don’t grill tofu). Besides, rice comes with alligator. Lots of rice, which took me by surprise for a split second. Guess I’ve been in the Bay for too long…
My friends said alligator tastes like chicken, and the important-looking lady who came out to greet us said the same thing, but I’m not convinced. It has more chew than chicken. It’s more like pork. We asked for no pepper in our “stir-fried alligator with pepper and lemongrass” (cá sấu xào sả ớt, $18.95), the pieces came out nicely seasoned, not spicy and evenly browned.
Although a bit on a the scrawny side (like me ), the eel stir-fried in a coconut curry sauce with woodear mushroom and thin cellophane noodle, topped with Limnophila aromatica (rice paddy herb) and crushed peanuts, is a winner. All conversations come to a happy halt as one breaks a piece of toasted rice cracker (bánh đa) to scoop up that sauce and the soggy noodle in it.
Opposing the airy rice cracker are the oil-streaming, deep-fried sticky rice patties that accompany the grilled rabbit topped with white sesame seeds. Instruction says dip the rabbit in the fermented tofu sauce (chao), and drizzle the sticky rice patties with a sticky sugared soy sauce, but the other way around made more sense to me: dried, charred rabbit needs something sweet, and oily patties need spice. Dad likes them either way.
Despite the original difficulty of choosing something interesting from a standard list, if we ignore the outdated plate styling with limp slices of red bellpepper laid around the meat like an ancient picture of the sun, and if we rank a restaurant solely on taste, Rosemary Garden deserves 7 out of 10. Then again I’m soft, and our hosts were nice (they also gave us three pieces of coffee cream cake, in which both of my parents claimed to detect some wine flavoring but I couldn’t sense anything bitter), so let’s say 8/10. We’d come here more often and order some cakes if it hadn’t been all the way across Highway 6. Do come here if you get married.
Address: Rosemary Garden Bistro
14639 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, TX 77083
Dinner for three: $56.13 (I’ve got to comment on this because I’m still not used to it: this is way too reasonable in North Cali standard and perhaps a bit high in Houston standard, but with so much leftover it’s still reasonable.)