Welcome To The Jungle

           Yet here's the surprise: For some reason we went home satisfied. With all the distractions in the decor, you hardly have time to think about your meal. There's plenty to talk about, be it critical or positive. It's a spectacle, and certainly worth seeing. Who faults the corn dogs at a fair? Sally forth, ye confused and befuddled, and test your mettle here. Discover whether or not you find Tracy the Talking Tree to be the harbinger of environmental and educational information or if you find a demonic likeness in her constantly shifting eyes. Find out whether you are good to go for more Rainforest fun or ready for a long reflective weekend up north, far away from your fellow man.

           TABLEHOPPING:

           NEW THAIS: In case you've been crushed by the temporary closing of the always amazing Ruam Mit Thai Cafe (relocation is pending), take heart: Lamphay Phetphrachanh, former head chef at Ruam Mit, has opened a new restaurant, Taste of Thailand (1651 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 644-3997). Frequenters of Ruam Mit (and there are plenty of us) can look forward to many of Lamphay's specialties, such as fresh spring rolls, tom yum (lemon soup with galanga, kaffir lime leaves and Thai chili peppers), gaeng ped pla (fish curry), and laab nua (lean ground beef, lime juice, and hot chili peppers). But there's no need to get stuck in a rut; plenty of new dishes (pork steamed buns, pla tod man (deep-fried fish cakes with red curry paste), dried spicy trout, and rad na (rice noodles with black bean sauce and Chinese broccoli) will grace the menu. And for dessert? You might just fall in love with buttercup squash with custard. With a beer license pending approval from the City of St. Paul and modest prices to boot (most entrées fall in the $6-$8 range), Taste of Thailand promises to be a local favorite. Also, a special note for belly stuffers: Taste of Thailand hosts an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet Monday through Friday, 11:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

           HELP WELCOME: What a sad thing it is to be looking for work and be prone to jump at those words. No, it's not really your help that's wanted, it's your welcome. Tulips Restaurant (452 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 221-1061) begs you to help welcome blues and jazz great Cornbread Harris at his St. Paul CD release party on Sunday, July 14. Of course, being Bastille Day and all, Cornbread Harris is not the only firecracker up Tulips' sleeve. The day begins with brunch (served 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) followed by a parade and show of French poodles (3-4 p.m.). Take the day to learn how to play Boule (French Bocce Ball) and enjoy French picnic foods served at the sidewalk cafe and under the tent. The celebration runs until July 21 for a total of eight rousing days of special lunch and dinner presentations. Order from the menu, à la carte, or try two festival prix fixe dishes: Frog legs or choucroute. Special events throughout the week include an Edith Piaf look-alike contest on Thursday, July 18, 8 p.m. (to enter, call 221-1061), a wine-tasting party on Tuesday, July 18, 6-8 p.m., featuring Twin Cities premier wine expert Jack Farrell of Haskell's and St. Paul writer Carol Connolly, and a day of French conversation on July 17 when the main dining room is reserved for it, featuring Martine Madeleine Graupner, Tulips Sommeliere Extraordinaire. Reservations are welcome.

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