CHEAP EATS It was one of those rainy rainy cold cold days, when all you can think about, if you’re me, is a steaming bowl of noodle soup. It was Sunday. Hedgehog was taking an all-day welding class at the Crucible. My football season was over, and I couldn’t play soccer because I’d yanked my hamstring playing football the weekend before, then ripped it playing racquetball. So I was under doctor’s orders to sit the hell still for a time.
Times like these, the then-impendingness of my favorite holiday (the food one) notwithstanding, make me bat-shit crazy. I sat in our cozy little cottage in my mismatched pajamas, looking out the window at the rain, falling out of shape, and just generally going to guano.
I felt bad for my soccer buds, because — even though I’m the worst player on the team — they kinda needs me. For numbers. I tried to get Papi, who’s actually good, to play in my place, but (go figure) she didn’t feel like running around in the rain.
I did! Except I couldn’t, so I told my team I would show up and just stand on the field, just stand there, if it meant we wouldn’t forfeit. That’s how desperate I was.
“Don’t worry,” they said. “It’ll work out.”
Which it did: we won without me. Plus Papi wanted to get dinner later, so that gave me something to think about and look forward to. Then do, when Hedgehog finally finished welding.
We trucked over to the city to dine with Papi. At the re-grandly opened Lotus Garden! Their words: “Re.” “Grand.” “Opening.” On a banner hanging off the awning. (The punctuation is mine.)
I would have put that differently, and I don’t mean Grand Reopening; I’d have said Do-Over, Redo, Take 2, or even Mulligan.
The menu has changed. The décor has changed even more dramatically than the menu. And, finally, I have changed: 11 years ago or so when I reviewed Lotus Garden — not long after they grand-opened for the first time — I complained about small portions and probably tablecloths. Even though the people there were the friendliest people in the world and the food was, in my own words, great, I never went back. Word.
What a lug nut! I lived four blocks away. Vietnamese is my favorite kind of food. It always was. But I was more interested in quantity than quality, back then, as a matter of policy. And I thought this was cute.
Ergo, the mulligan is as much mine as theirs. Or — as a do-over implies having screwed up the first time — it’s all mine, I should say. Lotus Garden never did anything wrong. They caught on fire. Or the building next door did, last Spring, and they got licked by it. And by smoke and by water.
Blue Plate, on the other side of the fire, was back in bidness the next day. They didn’t get as licked. It took Lotus Garden half a year to re-grand-open, in which time they changed some things: They got rid of the table cloths. Or maybe they just burned away. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look lower scale than it used to. I like that.
I love this restaurant.
Here’s the hell why: in addition to all the usual pho and hot and sours, they have lemon grass noodle soup! I’m pretty sure that’s one of the new things, or else I’d have ordered it eleven years ago. I just loves me my tom yum, and this was practically that, only with noodles, and not only shrimp but catfish too! When beautiful things like that happen, we’re talking new favorite restaurant.
Papi thumbs-upped her vegetarian pho (also new, I’m thinking), and my beloved welder was wild about her grilled lemon-grass chicken, wrapped with lettuce, carrots, cucumber, mint, and peanuts in do-it-yourself rice papers. This is Lotus’s signature dish. Or signature-ish, anyway. The owner of the place grills it at your table.
She apologized for the wait: “Sorry it took so long. We had to go out back and catch the chicken. And kill it. And cut it up. You know,” she said. “Ha ha ha.”
It was love at first goofiness, as far as Hedgehog was concerned. Me too.
Tue.-Sun.: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; closed Monday
3216 Mission, SF
Beer and wine