Mainers must be adventurous diners, because we now have many wonderful opportunities to enjoy ethnic foods. At Lemongrass in Brunswick, we discovered delicious Vietnamese cuisine.
Our friends Chris and Sandy Potholm have introduced us to a number of great restaurants over the years, including our favorite Indian restaurant, Brunswick’s Bombay Mahal. So when Chris called to suggest dinner at Lemongrass, it didn’t take us long to agree. And we’re so glad we did.
If you are like me, a lifelong meat-and-potatoes man, I can tell you that it’s time to try something new. At Lemongrass, I tried it all: Khai Vi (spring roll appetizer), Pho (noodle soup), Pho Noodles Stir Fry, Crispy Egg Noodles and Lemongrass Coconut Peanut Delight.
Delight doesn’t begin to describe this unique and tasty cuisine. I loved the freshness of the spring roll filled with fresh vegetables and rice vermicelli noodles with a touch of sesame oil rolled in rice paper and served with nuoc man. No man, I have no idea what nuoc man is. But it was good!
My rare beef Pho was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. This noodle soup is the national food of Vietnam, and Lemongrass serves their Pho with a plate of fresh bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime, jalapeno pepper, hoisin sauce and Sriracha hot-chili sauce. The menu states that the distinctive taste is supplied by a homemade stock infused with onion, ginger and star anise.
These two dishes would have made a fine meal, but of course we had to try some entrées. The Crispy Egg Noodles included broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, napa cabbage, bean sprouts and onions stir-fried in a brown sauce, served on crispy egg noodles with onions and cilantro. With choices from tofu to beef to seafood, I went with the seafood — squid, scallops and shrimp. You can probably tell from the description that this was delicious.
The Lemongrass Coconut Peanut Delight included fresh vegetables stir-fried in a lemongrass coconut peanut sauce with cilantro and served with rice or rice noodles. We ordered beef with this dish and enjoyed it very much.
But it was the Pho Noodles Stir Fry that knocked us dead. Crunchy vegetable and fresh bean sprouts stir-fried with pho noodles in a brown sauce and garnished with peanuts, onions and cilantro. We added chicken to this really creative dish — very different than anything we’ve ever had.
For dessert we enjoyed fried bananas and a special lemongrass gelato created by Gelato Fiasco just down the street. It was a great finish to a great meal.
Lemongrass is a small restaurant on south end of Brunswick’s Main Street, in front of the Inn at Brunswick Station which is a favorite stop for us when we are looking for a place to stay in Brunswick. The restaurant is small, with wooden tables, well-cushioned chairs and a very friendly hostess, Gillian Wait, who owns the restaurant with her Vietnamese chef husband, Alan Hoang.
I had never tried Vietnamese food before visiting Lemongrass, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I found the dishes to be light yet flavorful. I loved the fresh spring rolls. Rice paper wrappers hold beautifully arranged fresh vegetables that are so delicious when dipped in the nuoc man sauce.
George and I agreed that our biggest surprise was the Pho Noodle dish. Our daughter Hilary raves about this dish and admits that she craves it often. I can see why. Those amazing rice noodles are served in a broth with other toppings. A side plate of fresh bean sprouts, Thai basil and lime allows you to season and enhance the dish to your liking. This national food of Vietnam is just plain fun to eat. The crispy egg-noodle dish was another favorite of mine.
Vietnamese cuisine differs from Thai by using fewer spices and more fish sauce. The emphasis on fish sauce had me a bit concerned, but it is so subtle that I doubt you could detect a fish flavor. I certainly couldn’t. This seems to be a great cuisine to start with if you are concerned about heat. There simply wasn’t any unless you added Sriracha sauce.
Ethnic foods open up a whole new spectrum of flavors for diners. I never get bored with cooking because I draw on flavors from different cuisines. And I always get new ideas when visiting an ethnic restaurant. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite cuisine — I adore them all.
Ming Lee, a Chinese food restaurant in Waterville, has the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. What makes their food far above any other I’ve tasted is the sauces — velvety smooth and not thick. They offer typical Szechuan and Mandarin dishes, but make them extra special with exceptional sauces and veggies that are fresh and not overcooked. We favor the Szechuan dishes and the Crab Rangoon is to die for.
Maine has many good choices for Mexican food. Our local favorite is Waterville’s Buen Apetito, where they make their own sauces. We love their green sauce — a spicy blend of tomatillos, cilantro and chilies. It’s different from any sauces we’ve found at other Mexican restaurants and delicious.
Buen Apetito has creative items on their menu like the pulled pork (barbecued in-house) quesadilla appetizer. It is loaded with barbecued pulled pork and served in homemade flour tortillas.
Their combination plate of chicken enchiladas, chile relleno and a beef taco provides a good overview of well-made Mexican dishes. The chile relleno is extraordinary — a must have if you don’t mind a little heat. George and I order it often here. It’s one of those dishes that are labor intensive. Why bother cooking it yourself when you can get it perfectly prepared here?
You don’t have to go all the way to Thailand to experience that nation’s tasty cuisine, now available nearby in Skowhegan at M Thai. Vicky Soikum has created a very tasty exotic food experience that will keep you coming back to try more items on her extensive menu.
M Thai serves excellent appetizers — from dumplings and Crab Rangoon to Thai spring rolls and shrimp rolls. They come served with house-made ginger sauce and sweet and sour sauce. The variety of flavors and textures, and the fact that anything fried is not at all greasy, makes their appetizers outstanding.
I don’t know a lot about Thai food but I do know that I’ve enjoyed every dish I’ve ever tried. While dining at M Thai, I learned there are five types of curry dishes — red, green, yellow, panang and masaman. Vicky told us each is made with a coconut milk and flavored with that type of curry base.
Thai food presents quite a range of flavors, (sweet, hot and salty) and textures (both crunchy and soft). Soy sauce is not served with the main dishes as in Chinese food. All the entrees at M Thai have perfectly cooked meats and vegetables resting in an array of amazing light sauces. There’s no need for soy sauce.
Bombay Mahal in Brunswick has been our go-to place for Indian food for many years. The food served here is from the Punjab region of Northern India which offers rich, delicate flavors that pack a punch with every mouthful.
The menu is huge, and unless you know quite a bit about Indian food, you should ask the server for guidance. Don’t miss the naan and papadan here. They serve amazing sauces that enhance all of their dishes. There’s raita (a yogurt sauce), tamarind sauce (a contender for my favorite) and onion or mango chutney.
We loved a specialty of this restaurant, eggplant vindaloo, made with baby eggplant. Cooked in a tomato-based sauce and filled with sweet spices and ginger, this is a remarkable dish.
There are many vegetarian options on these menus for both the Indian and Vietnamese restaurants.
Did you know the national dish of the United Kingdom is chicken tikka masala? One bite of Bombay Mahal’s version and you will know why. The creamy tomato and coconut-milk sauce is packed with spices and absolutely delicious. I think what I love about this food is that it is so different from our everyday food. Some people shy away from trying Indian food because of the spices. But spices don’t have to mean hot. They will give you choices from mild to very hot. Don’t worry, your server will guide you if you let them know what you like.
We’ve got our eyes on a little Lebanese take-out in Waterville, Thai restaurants in Camden and Brunswick and a host of ethnic restaurants in Portland including Somali, Eritrean, Afghan, Salvadoran, Jamaican and Moroccan. Join us in this exploration of ethnic delights!
Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.