Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Lotus Garden Restaurant


On Saturday night I joined a bunch of culinary enthusiasts from the Craigslist Food Forum (I've recently learned that some find "foodie" derogatory) for dinner at Lotus Garden. While I have yet to visit Vietnam, I am always amazed at how at each Vietnamese restaurant I visit there is something unique on the menu that I have not seen elsewhere. Lotus Garden was no exception. While the standard items like imperial rolls and Vietnamese crepes were good, what really struck me were the raw beef salad and the eggplant with coconut and curry sauce.

First off, if you haven't had a Vietnamese crepe, I highly suggest you order it sometime. This is one of those dishes that must have been taken from the French and improved upon by the Vietnamese. The crepe itself is made with rice flour so it's crispy and tender at the same time. Rather than filling it after it's cooked, it's filled while cooking so the goodies are part of the crepe itself. The toppings on the crepe always include bean sprouts and onions and sometimes chicken or pork and shrimp. It is served with lettuce leaves, fish sauce, fresh mint and cilantro, pickled carrots and sliced cucumber. In a twist on the original version, the crepe itself is wrapped in a lettuce leaf with a smattering of all the other condiments to make a kind of sandwich roll.

But on to the other items, the raw beef salad was like the Italian carpaccio, only dressed with lemon juice, fish sauce, fresh mint, onions and finely chopped peanuts. The dish was succulent and tangy with fresh flavors. This is a dish that has that addictive quality, where one bite is never enough. The other standout was an eggplant dish that even won over some avowed eggplant haters at the table. Not a heavy coconut curry but perfectly cooked long chunks of eggplant in a light thin curry and coconut scented sauce sprinkled with fresh chopped green onions and peppers. The eggplant was that wonderful creamy texture that someone suggested might be a combination of steaming then stir frying. Not a hint of bitterness, this is what eggplant wants to be when it grows up. Another favorite at the table was the stir fried green beans. The beans were at the height of freshness and while the description said they were cooked with radish, I wouldn't quite identify the flavors in the sauce. They were delicious nonetheless.

While you may think of the Mission for Latin cuisine, Lotus Garden is a friendly neighborhood place with a gracious and accommodating owner/hostess, and makes a welcome addition to the Mission.

Lotus Garden</b>
3452 Mission St at 30th NOW at 3216 Mission St
San Francisco
415-642-1987