Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lotus Vietnamese resto in Shirlington

Since I'm dog-sitting for my brother, who lives in a part of Alexandria that's very close to Shirlington, I ate at Lotus (a.k.a. Lotus Grill & Noodles) in Shirlington's restaurant district. The menu has an impressive array of Viet/generic Asian dishes; I flipped to the back and was pleased to see a French-style menu prix fixe, which is what I went for.

The waiter who helped me make my selections was friendly but rather insistent that the $26 menu, which I had been eying, would be too much for me, and that the $22 menu was plenty filling. I was skeptical, but since the guy was talking me down, I decided to trust him and go with the $22 option: an appetizer, a soup, a main course, and a dessert. For the appetizer, I chose a typical fried spring roll; the soup was crab-asparagus (I had no idea what that might mean, but I had visions of the Bonefish Grill's crab-corn soup in my head). Both of these courses came out at the same time, and both were disappointingly small. The spring rolls were essentially one spring roll sawn diagonally in two, with a sweet-vinegar dipping sauce. Not bad, but not enough. The soup, which turned out to be translucent, with lumps of crab and little soft cylinders of asparagus visible in it, tasted good, but it had a snot-like consistency that reminded me of bad egg-drop soup. Too much cornstarch, most likely.

For the main course, I had ordered a beef-and-vegetable vermicelli. This course turned out to be both impressively sized and very, very delicious. I could suddenly understand why the server had warned me against ordering a larger meal. The menus at Lotus don't even bother to list the correct Vietnamese names for the dishes, so I have no idea what the main course was actually called.* It consisted of thin, marinated strips of beef laid in a bowl of delicate, bone-white vermicelli, alongside neat piles of fresh, julienned and chiffonaded vegetables-- soybean sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, and romaine lettuce-- and a healthy sprinkling of peanuts. A sweet/spicy vinegar sauce was placed next to the noodle bowl; I assumed I was supposed to dump the sauce onto the noodles and then go to town. I did so, and was rewarded with a magnificent fragrance and flavor combination. The tender cooked beef made for a pleasant contrast with the fresh-cut and crunchy vegetables, and the sauce and noodles unified the whole.

So the main course was pleasantly filling without being overly heavy. Dessert was an interesting banana-in-a-spring-roll, plus two tiny scoops of ice cream-- insignificant in size, but a flavorful way to cap off the meal.

All in all, I found Lotus overpriced and under-portioned for most of its meal components, but if the beef vermicelli main course was any indication, Lotus takes its plats principaux very seriously. Was it all worth the trip? I'd tentatively say yes, although I wish the dinner had cost about ten dollars less. If I go to Lotus again, though, I'm getting that $26 fixed-price menu.

*The dish might have have been bún bò xào. See here. The pic looks almost exactly like what I ate.


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