Eat & Drink

Tia Maria

505 Gretna Blvd, Gretna, LA 70053, USA 70053

Restaurant Review

Anecdotes & Analysis

Fusion cuisine has mostly been a one-way street. American chefs freely borrow ideas from ethnic cuisines and merge them with their own styles. But lately some Asian chefs have turned the game around. Nobody does it better than the Lemon Grass’s owner-chef, Minh Bui. His CBD restaurant was a bold expansion of a little Vietnamese cafe in Mid-City. Minh, who spent a few years at Commander's Palace, thought he could expand his menu beyond strictly Vietnamese dishes. And that’s the story here. The space, in the posh International House Hotel, is audacious in its design. Unusual milled-metal window frames with fanciful suggestions of curtains hang on the walls. Panels of industrial metal block the wind and light from the street. Tables are covered with white cloth, and surrounded by chairs of light-colored wood--the only clue that this is an Asian restaurant. The food is excellent, and sometime even exquisite. If you like Vietnamese food, you will find all your favorites in beautiful versions. If you like imagination, you'll be intrigued by, for example, the gumbo. The description conjures up the dark-roux delight at Mr. B's. What comes out looks like that, and tastes like it, too. For a second. Then you note flavors like ginger, and jasmine rice in a sticky ball on the surface. It's good, and it is gumbo, but something else, besides. They've had jumbo seared sea scallops every time I've been here, and these are great. The sauces vary, but a good example is a sweet soy and pepper sauce that sets off the silvery taste of the scallops nicely. They also make a crab cake (who doesn't?), dressed with won tons and a sauce that's somewhere between a remoulade and an Asian chili sauce (there's Creole mustard in there, which makes the difference). Vietnamese standards include polished versions of happy pancake and spring roll. The tropical Asian curry shrimp is harder to pin down; the curry is the red kind, which tastes more Mexican than Southeast Asian to me. Seafood entrees here mostly run as specials. They can be counted upon to have a nice slab of seared fresh tuna in some configuration, but they swing other ways with fish, as well. This and the shrimp and some vegetables are tossed about with pasta. Pasta specials are worth a look. One day the chef sent out an appetizer of brown rice noodles with stir-fried shiitake mushrooms, and I was tempted to cancel the rest of the order in favor of another large round of that stuff. The great entree specialty at the Lemon Grass seems to me to be birds. The roti is chicken in chunks bigger than those in typical Asian cooking, but smaller than the Colonel’s, seared to a pleasing crust and tossed in a slightly oily, slightly spicy, but almost invisible sauce. They serve it on top of a salad at lunch and with rice at dinner, and either way it's a great dish. Also here is the big hit from the first Lemon Grass: their version of the Chinese lacquered duck, mellow with the flavor of five-spice powder and luscious with a well-reduced duck jus. Great eating, that. As is the pork chop, the filet mignon, and veal chop, and even the rack of lamb. Desserts are French-inspired (most Vietnamese bakers do French pastries, and very well). The wine list is more than good enough for the food. The Lemon Grass is nothing if not well-rounded, and it's a fresh new resource for downtown dining.

Bonus Information

Attitude 2
Environment 1
Hipness 2
Local Color 1
Service 1
Value 0
Wine 1