Make us your home page

Review: Lemon Grass in heart of St. Pete stands out with Asian tapas


Naresh and Madhu Sharma never quite hit their stride with Green Chili Indian Bistro on Central Avenue. So they moved north, opening a restaurant of the same name just last week in Largo at the site of Wing Zone. Their empty restaurant, in the shadow of the BB&T building, was taken over by Kitty and Ed Onphianek and relaunched as the Lemon Grass, a Thai/Japanese/pan-Asian tapas lunch and dinner house.

The couple cut their teeth at Basil Leaf Thai Sushi and Noodles in St. Pete Beach, which has a similar agenda and menu. That restaurant, opened in 2011, has a shared visual aesthetic as well. Kitty took what had been a British pub and glammed it up, big time. It's stylish and dark and architecturally interesting, someplace you'd feel comfortable getting a little dressed up (and really, on the beach, that's a rarity). The Lemon Grass follows suit, a fairly workhorse dining room given a sleek makeover, with booths and moody lighting.

At lunchtime, it's bento boxes and lunch specials in the $7.95 to $10.95 range, strange table-fellow cuisines that somehow work: Imagine coconutty Thai Panang curry with a scoop of white rice tucked into a sectioned box with two pork gyoza (dumplings), a round of fried eggplant, a quartet of California roll slices and a little bowl of miso soup. Since opening, the pacing at lunch is unpredictable — one visit, it suited my office lunch hour schedule, another time we were craning our necks for service and compulsively checking the time.

Downtown St. Petersburg has a lot of choice at lunchtime, even quite a bit of Thai and sushi at this price point. What you'll find at the Lemon Grass is competent and well priced, but the familiar executions aren't raising the bar. At dinnertime, the menu spreads out a little further and this is where things get interesting.

The many-page dinner menu has several sections devoted to Asian tapas, the best of which is a selection of raw fish in zappy presentations. Tuna, salmon, yellowtail and friends are commingled and encircled with thin ribbons of cucumber and paired with a spicy ponzu sauce ($9-$13, depending on the filling). Same goes for a selection of Vietnamese-inspired fresh rolls packed with herbs, cuke, bean sprouts and lettuce and served with a traditional (but super sweet) Thai peanut sauce ($6-$10, depending on filling).

Still, it was dishes like the "tuna zap" ($12.95) that got my attention: thin slices of plush raw tuna fanned out and drizzled with a spicy-limey Thai sauce with cilantro. Simple, yes, but with great panache and impact. Same went for the slices of yellowtail garnished sparely with jalapeno and tart yuzu sauce ($13.95). I could make a satisfying meal of a couple of these, perhaps followed by a bowl of tempura udon ($14.95), fat wheat noodles cradled in homey chicken broth and topped with a passel of tempura-battered shrimp.

This last caused me to muse on the paucity of noodle houses in these parts. Perhaps in response to the economy in the past several years (remember, noodles are cheap), other American cities have opened emporia of soba, somen, rice stick and ramen, one-pot meals with surprisingly sophisticated range (seriously, in New York people talk about "artisanal ramen"). The Lemon Grass has a bit of this with yakisoba, udon and egg noodle soups. It would be interesting to see what would happen if these offerings expanded.

The Lemon Grass may be able to nab market share with its range of signature rolls and familiar Thai curries, but sometimes the swiftest way is to see a culinary hole and fill it.

Laura Reiley can be reached at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.


The Lemon Grass

310 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 894-1111

Cuisine: Japanese, Thai and Asian tapas

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, until midnight on Friday and Saturday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; reservations accepted; beer and wine

Prices: Tapas $4-$13.95; sushi $3.95-$24.95

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★ Service: ★★ Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★ ½

Review: Lemon Grass in heart of St. Pete stands out with Asian tapas 09/16/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 16, 2013 3:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Spaceballs 2 could really happen, Mel Brooks says


    When Mel Brooks talks about a sequel to Spaceballs, ‘80s fans are tempted to politely smile and nod our heads. It’s a joke, we figure, because how can you possibly recapture the magic of the 1987 Star Wars spoof, especially since John Candy has passed away. 

  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 23


    Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons: The original Jersey boy himself has produced hits like Sherry, Walk Like A Man, Rag Doll, December '63 and Grease during his long-lasting career both solo and with the Four Seasons. 7:30 p.m., Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, …

    Saint PAUL, MN - JULY 25: Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons perform at the 2010 Starkey Hearing Foundation 10th Annual "So the World May Hear" Gala at Saint Paul RiverCentre on July 25, 2010 in Saint Paul, Minnesota.   (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images for Starkey Hearing Foundation) *** Local Caption *** Frankie Valli
  3. Painted with suspense


    TAMPA — Sometimes a show comes along that does everything. It engages the senses on every level, tells a story that feels real and keeps you guessing to the end.

    Ned Averill-Snell, left, plays Latham and Landon Green is Stumpy, two working class painters working to convert a loft for a well-off couple.
  4. Review: ABC's 'Dirty Dancing' remake should be left in a corner


    It seems as if nothing is sacred anymore.

    Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes perform the iconic lift in the Dirty Dancing remake on ABC.
  5. Restaurant review: Tampa wine bar Cru Cellars also a worthy spot to indulge in sophisticated plates

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA -- One of the joys of writing about businesses in a particular market over a long period of time is watching some of them find their footing, mature and blossom. Cru Cellars has seriously come into its own.

    Citrus Panzanella, with blood orange, grapefruit, orange, fennel and crouton, at Cru Cellars in Tampa.