- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

Lemongrass has brought new food and new en- ergy to a once-derelict part of Annapolis.

Featuring Thai cuisine, the newly opened inner West Street restaurant seats about 36 customers in a small, modern dining room.

Diners probably will have to wait 15 minutes or so for a seat, as no reservations are accepted and there is no push-you-out-the-door attitude at this casual eatery. A small bar will keep them happy, though, as they wait for a table.

Restaurant partners Gavin and Julie Buckley, Jody Danek, Kristin Lewis and Matt and Catherine Hudson recently completed their two-year renovation of four 19th-century homes, opening Lemongrass and soon Metropolitan, which will focus on new American cuisine.

Lemongrass is the latest addition to West Street Village, a group of city buildings saved from demolition by historic preservationists. The buildings now house the two restaurants, a clothing boutique, florist and hair salon.

On a recent weeknight, with the restaurant at capacity, the scene was frantic. That’s understandable, as the waiters are still familiarizing themselves with the kitchen and menu.

Our evening started off on a funny note as a group seated next to us ate our appetizer. Rather than wait longer for a table, we had opted to sit at the long wooden barlike table in the middle of the room. If you’re looking for privacy, this isn’t the table for you. Aside from the honest mistake with the appetizer (the other group had ordered the same item), the group seating can provide some fun conversation.

The restaurant was quick to deliver another order of steamed dumplings ($5.95). The dumplings were stuffed with pork, shrimp, crab, water chestnuts and Thai herbs and served with a sweet soy sauce. The stuffing was flavorful but not overseasoned, so the delicate ingredients shone through.

Other starters are fresh garden and spring rolls; fried bean curd served with sweet-and-sour sauce and crushed peanuts; lightly fried calamari; skewered chicken marinated in Thai spices and grilled; and the deep-fried curried fish cakes that are served with a cucumber-peanut relish.

There are 10 salads. The mango salad ($5.95), made with crisp julienned mango, is plated with cilantro and a spicy lime vinaigrette. The papaya salad is similar, only made with julienned green papaya, roasted peanuts, green beans and tomatoes, then tossed with a spicy lime dressing. A grilled beef salad is thinly sliced steak with onions, cucumber and tomatoes, also with the lime vinaigrette, on a bed of mixed greens.

The lemon-grass soup is a hot-and-sour variety with a combination of seafood, lemon grass, basil leaves, tomatoes and mushrooms. Tom ka gai is slices of chicken breast in a soup of coconut milk with galanga, lime leaf, mushrooms and lime juice.

A menu of 36 entrees, nine of which are vegetarian, almost guarantees there is something for everyone at Lemongrass. However, it would be patron-friendly if the kitchen indicated on the menu whether something is extremely spicy or mildly spicy.

The homemade green curry includes coconut milk, bamboo shoots, eggplant and basil leaves with a choice of beef, chicken or shrimp.

Pad see Iew is a choice of beef, chicken or pork stir-fried with wide rice noodles and broccoli and soybean sauce.

Ka pow is a choice of chicken, pork or a seafood combination sauteed with ground pepper, garlic and Thai sweet basil leaves.

Pad pao tag ($12.95) combines shrimp, squid, mussels and scallions sauteed with lemon grass and basil in a red chili paste.Of course, the chili paste guarantees that this dish will have a bite to it, but it did not overpower the flavors of the seafood.

A crispy whole flounder ($21.95) comes with a choice of chili and basil-garlic sauce or mushrooms, ginger and black bean sauce. The flounder from head to tail barely fit on the plate. A wonderful crispy outside sealed in the tender, mild flavor of the fish. The chili and basil-garlic sauce complemented the fish nicely.

A whole rockfish (market price) is steamed with shredded ginger, napa, celery, thin soy sauce and lemon juice and served with a spicy dipping sauce, or it is wrapped in banana leaves, seasoned with lemon grass, garlic and pandan leaves, grilled and served with a spicy sauce.

The three desserts are sticky rice with mango, coconut custard cake, and lemon-grass ice snow. Because the ice machine wasn’t working that evening, we opted for the coconut custard cake. We weren’t sure what to expect in a custard cake. The dessert is really a custard that is firmer in texture, so it can be cut into squares like cake. The coconut flavor was perfect — distinct but not overwhelming.

RESTAURANT: Lemongrass, 169 West St., Annapolis; 410/280-0086

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday

PRICES: Soups and salads, $3.50 to $8.95; appetizers, $3.95 to $6.95; lunch entrees, $6.95 to $14.95; dinner entrees, $8.95 to $24.95; desserts, $4.50

RESERVATIONS: Not accepted

CREDIT CARDS: Master Card, Visa, Discover

PARKING: Street or public garage

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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