(First published in the February 6, 2020 issue of City Pages)
California chef and staff help launch new Lemongrass restaurant in Wausau
Tu Uong and Tuan Uong take a second to pose during Lemongrass Asian Fusion’s friends and family night ahead of their Feb. 5 opening.
Tuan Uong and Kelly Duong didn’t initially have much luck convincing Tuan’s brother that a Lemongrass Asian Fusion restaurant would work in Wausau. That brother, Tu Uong, has run a Lemongrass restaurant in California for more than a decade, and it’s been a successful model: Everything from the decor to the style of cuisine is turned up a notch.
But would it work in Wausau? Tuan and Kelly own Gloss Nail in Rib Mountain, so they know the business market here. They just needed to convince Tu.
His mind changed on a recent weekend trip with the couple to downtown Wausau. Soon they were eying a location on Third Street, in the storefront that once housed J Gumbo.
Though the space already had operated as restaurant, the Lemongrass operation needed a complete transformation and took longer than expected. Tu says they wanted every detail just right.
The results are stunning. A giant waterfall feature separating the bar from the front dining area is enough to make a visual impact on its own but the lighted accents and elaborate metalwork make the restaurant look like nothing else in the area.
Just as much attention was put into the menu, which features a diverse selection of items developed by Lao Santibouth, their head chef in California. Santibouth is one of five staff members in California now working at Lemongrass in Wausau to get the restaurant up and running, Tu explains. The idea is to eventually train their replacements and return home, but the California staff will be here as long as they need to be.
Standards such as pad thai are joined by interesting creations such as pineapple fried rice, rib eye pho, and Thai spicy chicken salad. Menu items were chosen to ensure that each dish has a unique flavor, so no two dishes will feel repetitive, Tu says. Menu items span the range from Thai-Vietnamese to Japanese and Chinese as well.
“This is exactly what Wausau is missing,” Tu says. Some of the food is unique enough that Tu says they will need to show customers in Wausau how to eat them properly; but the California restaurant is no different, Tu jokes: “We still have to do that now.”
Customers can take advantage of downtown’s new valet parking as well, something in full force Saturday night. Right now the pilot program is offered for customers of Ciao (right across the street from Lemongrass), but available to others for a fee. Lemongrass is partnering with Ciao to have access to the valet parking program.
The restaurant’s interior design was done by Ryan Wanta of Wanta & Son, Tu says, who also designed Mosinee Brewing Co. The restaurant also partnered with Mosinee Brewing Co. to serve its beers, including one made specifically for Lemongrass.
The grand opening was officially Feb. 5. Dining will be a mix of reservations and walk in, so call ahead if you want to ensure a spot. Hours are Mon-Thurs: 11 am-9 pm; Sat: 11 am-10 pm; Sun: 11 am- 8 pm. Check out lemongrasswi.com and Lemongrass Wausau on Facebook.