Restaurant Review #32: Gingergrass, Silverlake

Dining room

Someone to hear my prayers, someone who cares

In St. Louis there was this restaurant called Pho Grand that had ten different tofu dishes. Ten!!! I always ordered tofu with ginger and onions, or occasionally, tofu with lemongrass and chiles. Since moving to LA, I have not been able to find a restaurant that can satisfy my desire to eat a plate full of delicious tofu and crushed rice (the only kind of rice I really like).


Take second best, put me to the test

I've been eating all this half-assed Vietnamese food on the Westside at restaurants that never have exciting tofu dishes. I have noticed that tofu does not seem to be a common item on the menu at authentic places, but can't a girl get a break? Anyway, I finally went to Gingergrass about a month ago, and again last weekend, after having known about it for an entire year. Waiting that long to eat there was a serious mistake!!! They actually have a tofu entree!


Things on your chest you need to confess

First, a little disclaimer. The food at Gingergrass is what I would call white people Vietnamese food. If you want something super-authentic, you're still gonna have to drive down to Orange County. Judged on its own merits though, the food is awfully good. Most of it.

I've tried two of their specialty drinks, the gingerale and the fresh ginger limeade. I enjoyed both, but I was absolutely blown away by the gingerale. It's made from fresh pressed ginger. I've never had anything like it, and I had to order a second one to quench my passion. Both drinks, however, seem to lose their fizziness excessively quickly. Why is this? They also have a basil lime elixir, which I am skeptical of (you want me to drink basil?). Maybe next time.

Shrimp chips

Everyone gets shrimp chips while they wait for their food. I can assure you that there are no shrimp in these, as I did not die from eating them. The thing is, the busboy who delivers them to your table is kinda mumbly, so I couldn't understand what he was saying. I thought he might have said shrimp chips. They tasted kinda shrimpy. I wondered, would a restaurant really serve something with shellfish in it, one of the top 10 allergens, as a surrogate bread basket, and not announce loud and clear, "This has shrimp in it!!!"? Then I remembered how common peanuts are at bars, and that bread has wheat in it. But um, my allergy is more important, right? Anyway, the shrimp chips were like nothing I'd ever had before. I think they are kind of like pork rinds (but cleaner?), though nary a pork rind has crossed my lips. I am a good Jewish girl, after all. Wait, no I'm not. I'm not even Jewish. They come with hoisin sauce for dipping. They also kind of remind me of those packing peanuts made of corn starch, but crunchier (you know, the edible ones?), or cheeto puffs, but denser and slicker (and flatter, of course). You'll just have to try them yourself if you really want to know.

Reach out and touch faith

Gingergrass's food is GOOD. Good like you take one bite and you're so happy you want to cry. Ok, I was anyway. I had to refrain. I was already dining alone, and didn't need the whole restaurant thinking I was emotionally unstable and couldn't get anyone to eat out with me. I like to dine out alone sometimes, because I can taste my food more when I'm not trying to carry on a conversation.

Green papaya salad

On my first visit, I had the green papaya salad. The heavens opened and angels sung when I saw that this dish had....drumroll please...no shrimp! Finally, I could try this dish without fear of death. Ah. Green papaya tastes nothing like papaya. It's kind of like jicama, but chewier. Yeah, you probably haven't had jicama. Sorry. Anyway, the salad was very juicy, kinda sweet, and kinda spicy. Yum. A new favorite. And enough for leftovers. I made it last for 2 more meals.

Vegetarian Imperial Rolls

As an appetizer on this visit, I ordered the vegetarian imperial rolls. They arrived at the table looking somewhat overcooked, but since I was raised on burnt food, I wasn't too concerned. In fact, they were fantastically crunchy. You know how eggroll outsides are crunchy but then chewy? Well, these were just crunchy. Very interesting. Most importantly, they came with the vegan nuoc cham dipping sauce I'm in love with. Overall, the imperial rolls weren't anything particularly innovative, but they were yummy.

Beef, sweet potatoes, and green beans in a peanut chili sauce

My friend ordered the bo sate, "tender filet mignon in a spicy peanut sauce, wok-tossed with yams and long beans." I thought the sauce was off and rather oily. He liked the dish a lot though, so maybe it wasn't that bad. I appreciate the nod to steak and potatoes by using beef and sweet potatoes, though as someone who gets full fast, I don't like dense food pairings.

Steamed fish in a banana leaf, still wrapped, with a side of coleslaw and crushed rice

I ordered the banana leaf fish, which was described as a "tilapia fillet steamed in banana leaves with lemongrass, ginger, chilies, scallions on a bed of carrots and shiitake mushrooms." I figured, most things sound kinda boring on the menu, but actually taste really good. So I let my qualms about tilapia (aka the cheap fish) and the carrots (yucky) slide. It turns out that this was what I would call a diet dish. The fish was steamed all right, and so was everything else. No sauce. Steamed minced ginger. Yum. No. And the lemongrass? What lemongrass? And the shiitake mushrooms, which can easily be made amazing, were awfully bland. I dumped the nuoc cham sauce from the imperial rolls on it, which improved the dish significantly, and thanked myself for having permanently given up dieting (highly recommended).

Steamed fish in a banana leaf, unwrapped

On my first visit, I had the Gingergrass tofu, "crispy tofu with shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choy served with our vegan nuoc cham sauce." One bite convinced me that I had found a new favorite restaurant. I am not sure how they made the tofu crispy--it was definitely deep fried, but appeared to be coated in some sort of very thin breading. Intriguing. Wish I knew how to replicate that. The mushrooms and bok choy were sauteed and pretty tasty, though I didn't quite think their flavor jived with the sauce.

Though I was certain that no dish could top it, I felt I should branch out a bit before locking into ordering the exact same thing for the rest of my days. The experiment failed, but now I know. The only entrees I have yet to try are the shaking beef and lemongrass chicken. Neither sound too exciting to me, but meat doesn't excite me in general. There's also a pork chop dish and a shrimp dish, but I don't/can't eat either. Though I'd really love to try the carmelized shrimp if I could. All of the entrees are served with rice and slaw. The slaw is not mayonaissey, like traditional coleslaw, but vinegary. Pretty good stuff, though I'm usually too stuffed from everything else to eat much of it.

Gingergrass Tofu

On my first visit, I had the ginger creme brulee for dessert. It wasn't that gingery, but it was still good, though I thought maybe the texture should have been a bit smoother (I will not claim to be a creme brulee expert). The top was nice and hard, like it should be. Unfortunately, a month later, they had discontinued it. For some reason, key lime coconut bars, and all of the other desserts, just don't appeal to me. I am sweet tooth girl, but I don't get that excited about most restaurant dessert menus. It's always stuff I've had before.

I'll make you a believer

I've just dissed a lot of my meal, and you're probably feeling a bit skeptical about my praise. Just avoid the bo sate and the fish, and you should be fine. To experience the best Gingergrass has to offer, you can check out Mako Mondays, where the chef prepares a fixed menu for $35. You get a ton of food for this price. I haven't been, but I think it's a great idea. If you can't make it to one of these events, I'd recommend the gingerale, papaya salad, and tofu (in case you couldn't figure that out from reading this review). If I'd had the fish or beef on my first visit, I probably wouldn't have been so impressed. Those dishes definitely need some fine tuning.

You know I’m a forgiver

"No you're not, Amy, you're harsh!" Yes, I can hear what you're thinking. Well, the thing is, if a restaurant has done something to impress me, I will go to great lengths to defend its shortcomings (Musha would be a good example of this). I like to think that at a good restaurant, I should be able to order any dish and have it be spectacular. Maybe that's asking too much, but I don't think it is. But ok, I can forgive the bland fish and the off-tasting chili peanut sauce since I never plan to order these things again. I am going to religiously order a green papaya salad and tofu every time I eat here from now on. Those two things, and the drinks, are amazing, so I don't care if they serve a steaming pile of shit to the other people in the restaurant. Well, I guess I would, because I'd have to smell it.

I should mention that the price is very much right at Gingergrass. I had a drink, appetizer, main course, and dessert for $28 including tax and tip, and I had leftovers, too. Gingergrass doesn't serve alcohol, but you can pick some up at the wine store across the street. I believe there is a $5 corkage fee. I hate corkage fees.

My own personal Jesus

Food being perhaps the closest thing in my life to religious experience, I'm gonna have to give mad props to Mako for giving me a green papaya salad without shrimp, ginger ale made from fresh pressed ginger, perfect fried tofu and succulent dipping sauce.

2396 Glendale Boulevard
Silver Lake, CA 90039
(323) 644-1600


Rochelle said...

A friend of mine recently took me to Gingergrass, and I had the Bo Sate. I have to say that I think I agree more with your friend--I found the dish quite tasty; a basic "meat and potatoes" dish as you said, but with the sauce making it much more interesting. Of course, it didn't hurt to add some of the hot sauce to it, too...

sarah said...

garsh, maybe i need to try vietnamese food "for white people!" LOL! i just tried vietnamese food again at hanoi cafe, and didn't like it. i keep giving vietnamese chances, but i am beginning to think that i will never learn to love fish sauce and cilantro!

thanks again, amy, for playing in dine and dish! look for the summary some time tuesday night (or early wednesday morning as the case may be ;) )