The Birthplace: Lemongrass

This is the apple of Newtonian physics, the Gaia of Greek mythology, the Big Bang of the universe – this is where it all began.

UVA's historic "corner." Along these streets lies Lemongrass. Photo credit courtesy of Adrena Photography.

UVA’s historic “corner.” Along these streets lies Lemongrass. Photo credit courtesy of Adrena Photography.

After being away from Charlottesville for two months, I wanted to say I missed the place. I wanted to miss their roadside locale, in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a large college town. I wanted to miss the owners of the restaurant, greeting us with their cute Vietnamese accents and bright smiles. I wanted to miss the feeling of a bowl of pho after a week of hard work. But after visiting it for the first time this summer, I can honestly say I miss almost nothing.

I’ve said that I feel the pho at Lemongrass is quite mediocre. To be completely truthful, I think certain things about the place aren’t bad. With its strong yet not too strong uniquely herbal flavoring and its meaty heartiness, the restaurant certainly gets the broth right. The brisket is also cooked to a melt-in-your-mouth texture and the noodles are more than passable. The overall quality of ingredients and garnishes in any given bowl of soup is up to par with many better pho restaurants in northern Virginia.

A disappointment.

A disappointment.

What is not passable is the quantity of ingredients in their pho. Let’s get real – when you pay $8.50 for pho, you expect to be at the very least, full, after the meal. At Lemongrass, $8.50 will get you half a bowl of noodle soup and a tiny plate of garnish for two people. The amount of meat and broth that go into the pho is just abysmal. When I visited recently, I counted four pieces of meat and the soup level did not even approach half the depth of my bowl. I was disappointed. Is this the birthplace of the namesake tradition? Is this the place that really inspired our passion for pho?

Vietnamese restaurants pride themselves on value and efficiency – quick, cheap, and delicious food. Lemongrass’s pho might scrape by in just one of those criteria. Aside from being overpriced, we waited quite a long time for our meager soup to arrive, certainly unacceptable given how empty the restaurant was the day we were there. All for what? Half of a meal? What’s worse is that the only serve pho on Saturdays and Sundays! The owners of the restaurant claim this is to ensure the quality of the broth. In the end, Lemongrass is a Thai/Vietnamese fusion restaurant, but if they want to serve pho, they need to do it right – and not spend five days a week trying to fix their mistakes.

 

I can only hope we were there on a bad day. After all, Lemongrass is the birthplace of our tradition. It’s always held a special place in our hearts.

 

Final Rating: 4/10

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