Thai restaurants in the United States have a pretty narrow pantheon of greatest hits that appear on every menu: curries, noodles, salads. At Lemongrass Café in Bellaire, chef Fah Vorarittinapa looks beyond pad Thai and larb—way beyond them. In a space filled with comfy booths and vaguely '90s-esque combination of warm woods and mismatched colors on the walls, the demographic appears to be intensely local—mostly the grandparents of Bellaire and adjacent Meyerland. But in this case, Bubbe has the right idea.
Where most Asian fusion means flavors of the orient enmeshed with preparations from the U.S., in Vorarittinapa's kitchen matters are far more diverse. Yes, there's a snack of crisp, soft-centered sweet potato fries served in a fryer basket with a creamy jalapeño-cilantro dipping sauce, but also shrimp filled with bacon then wrapped in Middle Eastern kataifi pastry and served with spicy tamarind sauce. Entrées hop to Italy in the forms of both a scallopine and Milanese.
But when I dined at Lemongrass Café last weekend, there was no avoiding my interwoven fate with the Lemongrass Pizza. The oversized app (my group of three only ate half of the $7.95 pie, leaving me with a nice dinner a few nights later) is one of the most interesting dishes I've eaten in Houston. Though the pizza dough tasted pre-made (not too big a surprise given the large menu) the flavor combination was pretty magical. Lemongrass and galangal combined with herbs, marinated chicken, mushrooms and tomatoes to create the flavor of tom yum soup in pizza form. A lemon half sat on the plate ready to add further acid.
Had I had more room, I would have also ordered the Gorgonzola salad, a combination of lettuce and walnuts in Asian pear vinaigrette, served with Gorgonzola dolce in phyllo. Instead, I went straight to the lamb shank. The beast is served in its braising liquid, flavored with soy and shiitakes. I often complain that restaurants in Houston don't serve enough vegetables—this plate had greens flanking the lamb, the left flèche sautéed baby bok choy, the right chopped Brussels sprouts. But my favorite part of the dish was a pile of wonton noodles that absorbed the umami sauce most readily.
The dessert menu, downloaded to a tablet for our perusal, was full of appealing French-inflected pâtisserie, including an orange cake shaped like the fruit, leaf and all. But my crew and I settled on the green tea crêpe cake. I counted 16 layers of crêpe, but I am a writer because I'm not good at counting. No matter, the flavors of white chocolate and matcha melded surprisingly well and the green tea syrup on top was too pretty not to love.
If you're looking for a meal that can be summarized in a few words, you have thousands of options. But if you want something stranger (and more fun) than mere pad see ew, there's a treasure waiting for you in Bellaire.