Joco Diversions

July 15, 2014

Variety reigns at Overland Park’s Lemongrass Thai Cuisine

Owner Larry Thephachanh’s vast experience allows him to offer a menu that ranges from Vietnamese spring rolls to Chinese-American sesame chicken and a super-sweet Laotian dessert called mango sticky rice.

Don’t let the name fool you, Lemongrass Thai Cuisine serves much more than traditional Thai curry and noodle dishes.

On the menu: Vietnamese spring rolls and pho, Chinese-American staples such as sesame chicken, and a super-sweet Laotian dessert called mango sticky rice.

The pan-Asian menu was devised by owner Larry Thephachanh, who grew up in Laos but spend most of his restaurant career cooking Chinese and Thai cuisine in Texas, Oklahoma and Dodge City, Kan.

Five months ago, he opened Lemongrass Thai Cuisine in downtown Overland Park. The restaurant is divided into a sleek bar and a spacious dining room with pale green walls and chic banquette seating.

The dining room overlooks the Overland Park Farmers Market, where Thephachanh often buys basil, cilantro, zucchini, lemongrass and honey.

On a recent Monday afternoon, Thephachanh waited on tables as his wife and nephew cooked in the kitchen.

Thephachanh, wearing a starched white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, brought me and my friend glasses of super-strong iced coffee ($3.50) topped with a snow-white layer of sweetened condensed milk.

“I drink these before I have to drive for three or four hours,” Thephachanh said as he showed us how to swirl the milk into the coffee.

When I asked for an entree recommendation, Thephachanh took me on a tour of the menu.

“Do you like curry or noodles?” he asked before telling me about all five of the restaurant’s curry varieties — Massaman, red, green, yellow and Panang.

The red curry with tofu ($8.99) was a great choice — picture hunks of tender tofu and assorted veggies (bell peppers, baby corn, eggplant) swimming in an aromatic sauce sweetened with coconut milk and spiced with red curry paste. Floating dots of chili oil took the heat level up a notch.

If you like tongue-scorching spice levels, ask your server to make it “Thai hot.” Thephachanh calls that “pow-ing it up.”

My friend was pleased with the lightly sweet flavor and springy texture of her Drunken Noodles ($8.99), which are thick rice noodles stir-fried in a spicy sauce with chicken, basil, bell peppers, carrots and kai-lon, otherwise known as Chinese kale.

Have a hefty appetite? Try the Lemongrass House Beef ($9.99) — thick slices of flank steak coated in tapioca flour, perfectly seared, and served alongside a mound of soft white rice, steamed broccoli and a crunchy crab rangoon.

Some crab rangoon go way too heavy on the cream cheese, but at Lemongrass, the deep-fried dumplings are perfectly proportioned.

The servings at Lemongrass are huge, which is one of the reasons Thephachanh recommends ordering a few things for the table and sharing them, family-style.

Just don’t forget to save room for dessert. The mango sticky rice ($6.99) is rich enough to split. The dessert features a bed of sticky rice sweetened with coconut milk topped with a sliced, perfectly ripe half mango. A sprinkling of peanuts and sesame seeds finishes the dish.

The icing on the sticky rice cake is a carrot carved into the shape of a butterfly. The artful presentation reminded me of sushi, which, according to Thephachanh, might be the next addition to the menu.

Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every first and third week of the month. Contact her by calling 816-234-4823, emailing or tweet @sarah_gish.

Location: 7316 W. 80th St. in Overland Park

Phone: 913-674-4846

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Credit cards: Yes

Parking: There’s free parallel parking in front of the restaurant. If those spaces are full, you might have to park further away and walk a block or two — especially if you go on Saturday during Overland Park Farmers Market hours.

Don’t miss: Thai iced coffee ($3.50), Lemongrass House Beef ($9.99), Paad Kee Mao (also known as Drunken Noodles, $10.99) and the mango sticky rice dessert ($6.99).

Vegetarian: Order the red curry with tofu ($8.99) or the Vegetarian Delight ($9.99), a stir-fry of fried tofu and mixed vegetables flavored with lots of ginger and white wine.

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