Sometimes the restaurants right in your own neighborhood are the hardest to get to -- it seems too obvious or something. So we finally went to Silver Lake's groovy nouveau Vietnamese Gingergrass, only like a year or something since it opened. Just to be clear upfront, this is not the place to go for super-authentic spicy Vietnamese food nor the place to go for dirt-cheap Vietnamese food. This is the place to go when you and your friends want a fun, tasty dining experience that's relatively reasonably priced, attractively presented and won't scare people who aren't familiar with the real thing. Since that's what pretty much everyone seems to be looking for, be prepared to wait on weekends.
The room: A modern, spare design with bamboo-topped tables and an open kitchen is the perfect foil to the modernized Vietnamese food. The crowd is a mix of decoratively tattooed Suicide Girl-types with very appropriate chopsticks in their hair, beanie-wearing hipster homeboys, a seemingly large quotient of 20-somethings taking their parents to dinner and regular Silver Lake folks.
The food: The menu has a fairly large selection of appetizers, salads, noodle dishes, meat dishes, banh mi sandwiches and seafood dishes so it's easy for everyone to find something that fits either their diet or their price range. We started with crab spring rolls, with a nice filling but a somewhat rubbery wrapper.
Jen had the tilapia wrapped in a banana leaf while Kathy had the crispy shrimp special (basically a version of Chinese salt and pepper shrimp) and Levi and I both had the shaking beef.
Everything was beautifully presented on square plates with a refreshing, spicy slaw accompaniment. I liked the very savory shaking beef, although it wasn't as tender as the version we recently had at Newport Seafood. Jen liked the tilapia's sauce, but the texture seemed a bit mushy. Kathy's shrimp were tasty but no different than any average Chinese restaurant's version. For dessert, we shared a ginger creme brulee, which had a nicely assertive ginger flavor but lacked the supple creaminess of the best creme brulees. Part of the fun of eating at Gingergrass, which doesn't have a liquor license, is picking out unusual beers and wines across the street at Silver Lake Wine. They suggested an Austrian white Gruner Veltliner which perfectly complemented the lightly spicy, slightly sweet food.
The verdict: This food is not challenging, it's just tasty. And sometimes that's just what you want, especially when a neighborhood spot with a fun atmosphere is called for. The bill came out to $23 each including $5 corkage but not including the $13.75 bottle of wine, which seemed reasonable for the total experience.
2396 Glendale Blvd.