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Lemon Grass in San Jose (formerly Viet Express)

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The nicer version of Viet Express, with the large seating area and bar, has changed its name to Lemon Grass (but still same owners & menu). The counter-service side is still seemingly closed. I thought I’d start a new thread rather than adding to my previous post of Viet Express, which can be found here:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5809...

I tried only 2 dishes – really gotta get a group together so I can make better leeway through the long list of specials that sound so tempting and aren’t commonly found elsewhere.

First off, the service is still somewhat abysmal – more like a pho-house than a sit-down restaurant. And not that great at suggesting unique or specialty of the house dishes (the best you can suggest is shaking beef, spring rolls, tempura fried shrimp? okayyy guess I’m on my own). My server did suggest the crystal seaweed salad, a very good salad, but I got that last time. Also they still completely disappear except to bring you food (a-ha! This time I knew to ask for a takeout box as he was setting down my 2nd dish).

The same badly photocopied, plain paper menu is still in use (just more crinkled than before):
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenal...

Specials board outside seems to be a subset of the Specials page of the menu.
Outside board: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenal...
Specials page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenal...

House tea ($1 for 1-2 people, $2 for more than 2) is the same pretty glass pot with green tea, chrysanthemum flowers, jujube & wolf berries. Fragrant and smooth (good luck getting a hot water refill).
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenal...

My first dish was the snow fungus salad, #16 in the regular menu:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenal...

I really like the salads here. They pre-dress certain parts (the thin tender pork loin and the white fungus), keep other parts undressed (the paper-thin shaved celery, cuke & carrot, and the shrimp), and together it’s a light tasting but flavorful variety of tastes and textures. Just ignore the pool of dressing underneath the large leaf lettuce. This salad has finely chopped peanuts where the crystal seaweed salad had sesame seeds, and I liked this better. I also like the texture of snow fungus better than the seaweed as it’s a childhood favorite. Again, the fried shallots seem crunchier than store-bought but not house-fried. Maybe there’s a brand of store-bought shallots I haven’t had before. Again, I wished it had more herbs (it had only mint, and not that much of it).

My 2nd dish was a server recommendation after I kept pressing for something special, the grilled beef & shrimp rolls with banh hoi (thin rice noodle “patties”), #6 in the specials menu:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenal...

The beef rolls were tender, the shrimp cooked just right but with tails (and tails that weren’t crispy enough to eat). Not a fan of green bells I removed these from my rolls. The dressing is sweetish (not surprised) and the beef rolls needed it as they were a bit bland on their own (none of the lemongrass I was hoping for, given their name). The banh hoi are not greasy here, but are lukewarm – I’m guessing nuked. Oh, I confirmed that the banh cuon (rice noodle sheets) that I got last time are not house-made, they’re bought pre-made and nuked upon order – which explains the slip-shod high density of the sheets.

Overall, I was very pleased with the salad and thought the beef dish was just ok. Maybe I should’ve gone with my temptation to get some snails, instead of relying on the server’s recommendation. There’s always the next time!

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Lemon Grass (formerly Viet Express
)1143 Story Rd, San Jose, CA 95122

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  1. Great post Alice - now I'm hungry for Viet food! The white fungus salad sounds very good; love the texture...