Krungthep Thai is already beloved. As the new Minneapolis outpost of the discreet and tiny Bangkok Thai Deli in St. Paul, it was born under the banner of some pretty high standards and a passionate following.
The name seems sneaky and unrelated to Bangkok Deli the First. But Krung Thep is actually just another name for Thailand's capital city. The new (and much larger) location occupies the late Seafood Palace at 2523 Nicollet Av. S. (10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 612-874-7721).
While the lobby window remains emblazoned with the Seafood Palace insignia, the quiet customer commentary will tell you it's anything but. On a Tuesday afternoon the most commonly overheard sentiment was, "We're so glad you guys came to Minneapolis!"
The menu mirrors that of the original, but has more daily seafood specials, including lobster, scallops and numerous fish dishes. This food delivers flavor like a sock in the face. The Nam Tok ($8) is a salad of marinated, sliced beef that practically oozes fresh, green flavor. A confetti of mint, green onion, cilantro and rice powder (toasted and coarsely ground white rice) coat every bite, and the overwhelming spunk of lemongrass and lime will keep you smacking and marveling. Not a moment of this dish is bland.
Krungthep's Tom Yum ($10) soup has a similar welcome pungency. Straw mushrooms, whole chiles and shrimp (if you choose) accent the hot and citrusy broth. The only mildly uncomfortable part is the large slices of bitter galangal and sharp stalks of lemongrass that swim onto your spoon. Nevertheless, they give the soup its flair.
The Green Curry ($8) is delicious and huge. Like every other entrée on the menu, one serving could easily feed three. Generous ribbons of basil, fresh jalapeño and smooth, snappy chunks of eggplant and green and red peppers make up a chewy bowl of warmth.
The Spring Rolls ($3) are good and fresh, and the Papaya Salad ($7) is also a winner. The gentle pine of the green papaya and the grassiness of fresh green beans ride a bass line of toasty chopped peanuts and tangy tomatoes. It's a dark and chewy coleslaw for winter.
Of course the Thai newbie's favorite, Pad Thai ($8), is good enough, piled with peanuts and thick hunks of green onions that give the dish a spark of freshness. However, the noodles were pretty greasy on our visit, and overall the plate lacks the spunk and citrusy verve of the other dishes we tried.
Regardless, Krungthep Thai is the place to bring your hard-to-please friends -- the ones who made Pad Thai at home when they were, like, 12. Just make sure to specify the mildest level of spice. Even the most well-adjusted palate might recoil after a few bites of a medium-spice dish. That's right. Krungthep's for real.
Fans of Sweets Bakeshop in Minneapolis and St. Paul may be interested to know that Sweets founder Krista Steinbach has moved on to the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis. As its pastry chef, Steinbach will overhaul the new Scandinavian inspired bistro's dessert menu. Her first addition: a pear tarte Tatin with whipped crème fraiche and pear caramel.
- The Heavy Table team writes about food and drink in the Upper Midwest five days a week, twice a day, at heavytable.com.