Being in Syracuse brings back wonderful memories of the four years I spent there in college. So, I may be a bit biased when I speak about the amazing dining that is scattered amongst the city. It brings to mind a quote from Mad Men:
“In Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”
So it is no surprise that my favorite dining establishment in the world is located in this fair city, so if you find yourself in the great North, do everything within your power to go to Lemon Grass. If I can make a four hour drive solely to eat here, you can do it too.
Located in Downtown’s Armory Square, Lemon Grass and it’s sister/joint restaurant Bistro Elephant bring fine dining to Central New York. Originally opened by the Chutinthranonds in 1990 in Mattydale, Lemon Grass moved to it’s current location in 1994. This couple changed the world of Thai for many, including myself. The atmosphere is classy, and I would certainly recommend dressing for the occasion.Everything about this place is top-notch, and the service is no exception. The staff is meticulous and only the best of the best are servers. Knowledgeable about not only the menu, but educated on the intricacies of the rare and exceptional ingredients used in the food. The cocktail list is curated and expertly mixed, the Mango Cosmopolitan being the stand-out for me. The beer list is well-rounded, with nothing too obscure, but clearly well thought out. The wine list is long, with a bottle in almost every price range.
The food will change your life. I can genuinely assert that every menu item is exceptional, but I have perfected my order after countless trips and a 4 hour distance separating me from my favorite restaurant. Always start with the oysters. Priced at Market Price, the land-locked Syracuse imports the oysters fresh from multiple sources across the country, every one tastier than the last. Most recently, I had oysters from the coastal town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Served in a stunning serving platter with the best damn sauce ever, sriracha with crispy shallots. Is it strange that I would drive here over any other coastal city to get oysters? They are that good! Lemon Grass’ mussel appetizer is also second to none. Served in a cast iron crock in their signature Prig Pow sauce, you will be drinking the sauce from mussel shells by the end. There are a selection of seasonal salads to cleanse the palate and prep you for the most amazing entree of your life.
My personal favorite is the red curry rack of lamb. Despite being a spice head, I will always order my curry at a medium level here. Servers joke that they have a “license to kill” when it comes to the Thai level of spice, and I have a friend who learned that the hard way. His face turned about 7 shades of red and couldn’t get enough white rice and red wine down his gullet to relieve himself. The rack of lamb is always cooked and seasoned perfectly, the chefs have a great respect for treating meat the way it is supposed to be. My boyfriend and loyal dining partner’s favorite meal is the Prig Pow filet mignon. Prig Pow as served here is a sauce made of sautéed roasted chili jam, garlic, Italian long hot peppers and cinnamon basil. A perfect blend of umami and spice to accent meat, I am not joking that you will have to refrain from licking the plate. Finally, another favorite entree selection is their signature roast duck with orange tamarind. A customer and critic favorite and a recipient of an award for Best Recipe.
It’s rare that I order dessert, especially after a multi-course meal like the one I have at Lemon Grass. However, I would be remiss if I neglected the dessert menu. There is an in-house pastry chef here, so please, TREAT YO SELF. Each dessert is hand crafted in house, with an attention to detail sure to blow you away. There are a few dishes that change seasonally, like the presence of the amazing strawberry napoleon. Layers of delicate but crisp phyllo dough mixed with strawberry sauce and fresh strawberries makes for the perfect summer dessert. I was happy to get another seasonal favorite and Thai specialty, the black sticky rice with mango. Any fan of Thai will know how special this dessert is, with delicate coconut flavor, warm rice and ripe sweet mango. MY boyfriend is fond of the chocolate pyramid, a chocolate mousse encased in a chocolate shell in the form of a pyramid. Topped with a gold leaf, dark cocoa moon and served with homemade vanilla ice cream, your instagram will beg you to post countless shots of it.
Considering the quality of food and service, Lemon Grass belongs on the Michelin list next to the finest of restaurants. While I await that day, I will continue to appreciate its spectacularity and reasonable prices. It is certainly one of the pricier restaurants in the area, but all things considered, $200 isn’t bad for an amazing four course meal for two.
238 W Jefferson St, Syracuse, NY