And who but a real fan of this city could appreciate Bev's eerily majestic view? Past that 394 canyon you can see nearly all of the Minneapolis skyline, and you're close enough so it soars before you glowing and enormous. I have plans to head down there for this winter's first blizzard, because I'm sure the snow-globe effect of the lit cityscape will be spectacular. I just hope it doesn't happen this weekend.

 

TABLEHOPPING

ORPHAN'S REVENGE: Who benefited when The King and I got booted off Nicollet Mall five months ago? Well, Target corporate headquarters types, obviously, but maybe Thai food lovers, too. The restaurant will reopen, possibly before the end of the year, in the former Robert Lee space, which used to be Ciatti's (1346 LaSalle Ave.).

King and I co-owner Gary Haanpaa, who owns and runs the restaurant with his chef-wife Chivhivan Bu, says that in addition to nearly tripling the size of the restaurant and allowing the place to host weddings and other big parties, the move will be a boon to the menu: "The last space was really cramped," he notes. "You should have seen our kitchen--it was smaller than your average Wayzata home kitchen, and it prevented us from being able to do what we wanted. My wife has pages and pages of dishes she wants to start making. Actually, we may have to rein her in a little. We don't want to go to a 200-item menu."

A new King and I menu could fill a pretty interesting niche in a town where Thai food generally comes in two categories: Made with razor-thin margins by people with no resources (in which case the dishes are often actually Laotian or Vietnamese), or offered by chains as a synonym for "spicy" (witness the Green Mill's "Thai pizza"). Fresh, high-quality seafood especially is lacking from the current Thai lineup--and as it happens, Haanpaa notes, "my wife is from a little town 120 kilometers north of Bangkok on the coast, and seafood is what they eat there." They also like Johnny Walker Black, which the new King and I will be able to serve, because the space comes with a full liquor license.

One final, unexpected silver lining for Haanpaa is a little more freedom to spend, courtesy of the Nicollet buyout, which among other things will allow the new King and I to offer free valet parking. Free to you and me, that is: Haanpaa will be shelling out about $50,000 a year for the amenity.

BIG MAC, HOLD THE BURGER: Everyone has questions about the veggie burger McDonald's is test-marketing in New York City. It drives some to ask, as they do at the self-appointed watchdog group McSpotlight (www.mcspotlight.org): Is vegetarian really vegetarian if it comes from the Great Satan? Here at Tablehopping we are similarly impassioned, but in a different vein. We say: Dude, no freakin' way! And then we direct the Tablehopping Learjet east and parachute into downtown Manhattan. Checking our 'chutes curbside, we race into a McDonald's to find that the veggie burger is available only as a quarter-pounder manqué, when what we really want is a Big Mac. After much rending of garments, batting of eyelashes, and flaunting of negotiable currency, we persuade the counterpeople to make a special Tablehopping vegetarian Big Mac and charge us for two burgers. Seven dollars later, a beast-free Big Mac is sampled and deemed Pretty Good, with all the salty and sweet, savory, secret-saucy, bun-y, and lettucey flavors discriminating palates like ours crave. And so we jet home, happy to have our intellectual curiosity so fully satisfied.

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