Crispy salted whole red snapper with spicy lemon grass was problematic for several reasons. First, though both this item and the Palace's other whole two-pound fish dish, fried snapper with caramel Vietnamese fish sauce, were listed on the take-out menu at $17.95, our waitress informed us that this was actually the price for a one-pound fish; two-pounders were $24.95. Okay, the eat-in menu did say "seasonal."
A decidedly less understandable problem was that when our snapper arrived, its sauce had not a hint of either lemon grass taste or spiciness but was, rather, syrupy-sweet. And the fish itself tasted deep-fried, not salt-cooked. The dish tasted, in fact, exactly as one would expect fried snapper with caramel sauce to taste. This seemed such a coincidence that we asked our waitress if there'd perhaps been a misunderstanding. She returned from the kitchen with a bland smile and the following message: "The chef says to say it is the lemon grass snapper, not the caramel snapper. It is so sweet because he is so sweet!" Very cute! But not very satisfying. Well, no matter. The snapper was so overfried-to-desiccation that eating it was like gnawing on a greased Fed Ex envelope.
Roll on! Vietnamese make the healthiest spring rolls the world over
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Sadly none of Vietnam's three- or four-dozen varieties of rice wine is available to wash the solids down, but sake is, as are some far more interesting soft drinks. "Vietnamese smoothies" are what the menu strongly touts. But I couldn't resist "grassy jelly drink" -- not nearly as horrible as it sounds, since "grassy" means tasting like cereal grain, not like your lawn, and "jelly" is really tapioca beads. Anyway, tapioca drinks are all the rage among Southern-California Asian teens. So after all that healthy food, what the heck? Live dangerously.