Dining del Lago

Lakeside Dining 2000: Many Restaurants, Not Much Water

Lemongrass Asian Bistro

1310 RR 620 S., 263-2221

Mon-Thu, lunch, 11am-2:30pm; dinner, 5-9:30pm; Fri-Sat, lunch, 11am-2:30pm; dinner, 5-10pm

Here's an unexpected treasure. Would you believe a good Thai restaurant in Lakeway, of all places? The folks who live out there are pinching themselves in disbelief that an interesting ethnic restaurant now exists in their midst. Chef Ped Phommavong grew up in the restaurant business in Thailand in a little town near the Laotian border. After working in some of the best restaurants in Bangkok, he moved to America. He views himself as a pan-Asian chef, taking the best of Thai, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Japanese, Indonesian, and Chinese cuisines and melding them into his own creations.

Many traditional Thai dishes are here. The pad Thai ($7.99) is among the best and most intensely flavored I've tasted in Austin. Tom kha ($2.50) is a classic soup made from chicken, lemongrass, chili, lime, and mushrooms with coconut milk as its base. Ped's version hits the tongue with all the flavors intact and distinct. Thai yellow curry ($7.99) is sweet and spicy in impeccable proportion.

Their variation on the Vietnamese shrimp-and-sugar-cane dish is Lemongrass Stick ($3.50), a paste of shrimp, pork, onion, and carrot bonded to a stick of lemongrass, quick-fried and finished in a very hot oven. The meat becomes suffused with the lemongrass. Both aroma and flavor are exquisite. The big draw for pepper lovers is Jumping Shrimp ($9.99). I can tell you why they're jumping -- their little tails are on fire with pepper! These diminutive delicacies are stir-fried with some summer vegetables and then drizzled with hot Thai tom-yum sauce. Yum-yum sauce would be a better name.

The best is yet to come. Chef Ped loves a challenge. Is there an Asian dish you've been craving? Give him 24 hours notice and he'll make it. We called one night and asked him to create his choice of a Laotian dish. Even on short notice, he knocked it out. I have no idea what it was called, but it was $8.99 and unlike anything I'd ever tasted. Want an Iron Chef-style meal with lobster done five different ways? He treasures the test. This kind of passion about cooking is new to lake food and to Lakeway.

Are there any downsides? The wine list could use some help. There are no mixed drinks. The wait staff, while enthusiastic and friendly, could use a little training in the finer points of service. But overall, this is a wonderful addition to the lake. I'll be back.

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