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7 Catt. 1: In re Lemongrass

2012 March 7
by CATTLEYA, J.

CATTLEYA, J., delivered the opinion of the Cart. JEREMY, C.J., delivered a separate concurrence.

We granted cartiorari to Lemongrass, a food truck specializing in Vietnamese cuisine, on three menu items: (1) slow roasted pork banh mi; (2) lemongrass chicken taco; and (3) Thai tea with bubbles. The Washington Post upheld the quality of these three items. It described the banh mi as “addictive.” It found that the taco was “a surprisingly great twist on the [banh mi].” And it concluded that the bubble tea was “a sweet, milky way to wash it all down.” We now affirm, but with more elaborate reasoning.

Lemongrass

I. STREET FOOD

Before we address Lemongrass’s offerings, we must settle the question of whether they constitute “street food.” This Cart has defined “street food” as “the kind[] of food[] that can be cooked in front of you and [is] meant to be eaten with your hands, without forks, while standing up.” In re Eat Wonky, 2 Catt. 5 (2011). We further explained that under the Eat Wonky test,

a dish must (1) be cooked or be capable of being cooked in front of the customer, i.e., aboard the mobile gastronomic enterprise (“MGE”); (2) is meant to be eaten with one’s hands, i.e., without forks or other cutlery; and (3) is eaten or is capable of being eaten while standing up.

In re Big Cheese, 6 Catt. 2 (2012). However, this test is “intended only to be a multifactor test to guide and direct our analysis.” In re Hot People Food (The Hot People Dumplings Case), 6 Catt. 4 (2012).

It is clear that the banh mi—a sandwich—satisfies the Eat Wonky test. Time and time again, this Cart has declared sandwiches to be true “street food.” See, e.g., In re Rolling Ficelle, 6 Catt. 3 (2012); Big Cheese, 6 Catt. 2.

Today we find that tacos, like sandwiches, are “street food.” Similar to sandwiches, taco can be cooked and assembled in front of the customer. Moreover, tacos share the finger-food quality of sandwiches. They are meant to be eaten without utensils, and the customer can easily eat tacos while standing up.

Thai tea with bubbles—a drink—can similarly be characterized as “street food.” Requiring only the boiling of tapioca pearls and the mixing of black tea and condensed milk (plus another step or two), Thai tea is capable of being prepared in front of the customer. Furthermore, it is capable of being consumed without the use of any gadget or tool. Although bubble tea is usually served with a large straw (straws enhance the eating experience of tapioca pearls), the presence of the straw doesn’t change this result. See Hot People Food, 6 Catt. 4 (finding that dumplings were “street food” because they could be eaten with one’s fingers, even though a fork was provided). Finally, there is no doubt that the customer can perform the task of drinking while in the standing position. (The Chief Justice’s clerks, who are still doing double duty to assist me as well, tell me that young people regularly exhibit this skill at bars and other social establishments.)

Because Lemongrass’s offering constitute “street food,” this Cart presumes that they should be affirmed, and the burden to show that they should be remanded lies with the Cart. See Big Cheese, 6 Catt. 2. For the reasons stated below, we find that the burden is not met for any of the three food items before us; therefore, we affirm.

 

Thai Tea with Bubbles, Pork Banh Mi, and Chicken Taco

 II. SLOW ROASTED PORK BANH MI ($7.50)

Another reviewer—the Washington Post—called Lemongrass’s pork banh mi “addictive.” WaPo, however, did not explicitly state what made the sandwich addictive. Was it the pork? The spicy mayo? The baguette? The pickled carrots and radish?

The pork was tender, but while one might have expected it to take the spotlight, it did not. The flavor of the spicy, creamy Sriracha mayo was stronger than the pork. The mayo was very tasty though and gave a nice kick to my palate, so I didn’t mind that the pork fell into the background.

The pork was also overshadowed by the pickled carrots and radish. The pickled topping nicely balanced out the spicy mayo. Texturally, it provided a nice crunch. Taste-wise, the acidity was very refreshing. This is a pickled condiment done very, very, very well.

The element which made the biggest impact on my food memory was the baguette. According to WaPo, Lemongrass gets its bread from a Vietnamese bakery in Falls Church. Lemongrass’s choice of bread is perfect. Like another bread that’s being sold on the street, see In re Rolling Ficelle, 6 Catt. 3 (2012), the baguette was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Each bite into it made me want another . . . and another . . . and another. It’s a very good thing that the baguette was large in size, so that I could keep having another, another, and another bite. (Initially, I was going to save half of my sandwich for dinner, but there was no stopping me from eating every crumb of this bread as soon as I could.)

In the end, I really didn’t care that the pork was merely a supporting player in the banh mi. The baguette and pickled vegetables were so exceptional that Lemongrass could sell them together as a new sandwich and would see me in front of the truck every week.

N.B.: There was also cilantro on the banh mi, but I will leave any comment on this herb to my brother. As I have noted before, I do not like cilantro. See In re Salt and Pepper Grill, 6 Catt. 1 (2012). But it’s not my fault.

III. LEMONGRASS CHICKEN TACO ($7.50 for 3; $4 for 1)

Lemongrass styles its tacos as the “carb friendly sister” to the banh mi. It includes the same ingredients but serves them on a flour tortilla instead of a baguette. WaPo concluded that the taco was a “great twist on the [banh mi].” I disagree on the grounds that there is no need to find an alternative to the banh mi, but I still affirm.

Although I can accept that a flour tortilla may be a lighter option than a large baguette, the flour tortilla was not anything special. On the other hand, the baguette was so very special, see discussion infra Part II, that I would recommend eating Lemongrass’s baguette for lunch and finding a carb-friendly dinner later. Do as I say. Really. You’ll thank me later. 

As with the pork in the banh mi, the chicken in the taco was overshadowed by the pickled carrots and radish. By this I do not mean to say anything negative about the preparation of the chicken. WaPo determined that Lemongrass marinated its chicken in “lemon grass, sesame oil, garlic and shallot.” The chicken was not bad. It was not dry either. It’s just that the pickled vegetables were spectacular. It was all that I tasted and all that I wanted to taste.

IV. THAI TEA WITH BUBBLES ($4)

Lemongrass’s Thai iced tea tasted like . . . Thai iced tea. In the words of WaPo, it was “sweet” and “milky.” To this I must add that it was very sweet. The kind of sweetness that you crave every minute as a kid but must space out once you hit a certain age for the sake of your teeth sensitivity. Also, I must note that the bubbles—pearls of tapioca—had the perfect texture: gummy and chewy. (A tip from someone who has imbibed many bubble teas: If the tapioca pearls make prolonged contact with the ice cubes floating in your cup, the pearls are going to lose their delightfully gummy texture. So don’t wait too long to finish your bubble tea.)

V. MATHEMATICAL CONSIDERATIONS

If you’re planning to get the pork banh mi and Thai tea with bubbles (which you absolutely should), consider making it a meal. Lemongrass’s “meal” option adds bubble tea and a taco to your banh mi order for an additional $4.25. I’m not a judge (you need not address me as “Justice”) who pretends to be a math whiz, but this appears to be a good deal. An a la carte taco is $4. Bubble tea is $4. Under the “make it a meal” option, you get both for $4.25. (This trio—banh mi, taco, and bubble tea—will seem like a lot, too much for a single lunch, and it probably is, and I definitely thought it was excessive, but I finished it all anyway. And very happily so.)

VI. CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated in this opinion, the case is

AFFIRMED.

*Erratum. The original version of this opinion used “Thai Bubble Tea” to describe Lemongrass’s bubble tea flavor of Thai tea. While Lemongrass uses “bubble tea” and “Thai tea” on its menu, “boba” and “Thai iced tea” are also commonly used. We confusingly chose to call Lemongrass’s offering “Thai Bubble Tea”. Although the drink is a popular one, there does not appear to be a standard name for it. Variant names include “Thai Tea Bubble Tea”, “Thai Iced Tea Bubble Tea”, and “Thai Tea Boba”. After considering the options, we changed “Thai Bubble Tea” to “Thai Tea with Bubbles”. We hope this is less confusing, but are prepared to issue another correction if it is not.

JEREMY, C.J., concurring.

I concur in my sister’s mostly well reasoned opinion. I write separately only to note once more that my sister is ever willing to convolute plain language to sit her interpretative needs. In In re China Garden, 5 Catt. 1 (2012), she was eager to overlook the plain meaning of the Judiciary Act of 2011 (Cartiorari Act) and our own Rules of Procedure in order to find that a dim sum cart is not a “food cart,” an “other transitory alimentary establishment,” or a “mobile gastronomic enterprise.” Her rejection of the plain meaning of legal texts reaches a new nadir today. In the case before us, she willfully subverts the plain meaning of “food” to suit her whims, finding bubble tea–undoubtedly a beverage, not a foodstuff, albeit brimming with food-like pearls of tapioca–to constitute “street food.” See Part II, supra. Nevertheless, because the bubble tea was delicious, I am willing to overlook my sister’s transgression.

One Response
  1. tomaj permalink
    April 10, 2013

    Point of order: Even though Lemongrass truck describes one of their bubble tea flavors as “Thai tea”, the unfortunate header you choose above for section IV was “Thai Bubble Tea”, which may mislead the casual reader to conclude that the entire concept of bubble tea is of Thailand origin.

    Au contraire. Bubble tea is from Taiwan, where it can be found on most corners, in many flavors. I have never seen it in Thailand or Vietnam. Lemongrass’s offerings include Thai ice tea flavor, along with green tea and coffee. (Which would lead to the unfortunate phrase “Coffee bubble tea”. The assemblage shivers.)

    I would expect that the Cart, who spends much of each session discussing in detail whether something qualifies as street food (including bubble tea, which is a street drink) would want to be correct on this.

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