Thai Uptown Style
1221 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Whenever I write about a restaurant in Uptown lately, I get a nasty little bouquet of e-mails: "Anyone stupid enough to go to Uptown deserves what they get!" "Another overpriced restaurant for pretentious Uptown art-holes!" That kind of thing. Yet they never send me such missives about Mac-Groveland or Seward. Truly, Uptown is the only neighborhood in Minnesota with player haters.
Which is, of course, something to be proud of. Jealous much? Between the best caramel rolls (Isles Bun and Coffee) the best wine lists (Chiang Mai Thai and Café Barbette), the best first-date restaurants (Campiello and Chino Latino), the best anniversary-date restaurant (Lucia's), the friendliest sushi bar (Sushi Tengo), the prettiest rooftop views (brand-new Stella's), the best-paved lake paths (Lake Calhoun), the best margaritas (Bar Abilene), and the best crumpled paper cup in the gutter (you know the one), you can see why the player haters hate so hard. And to them I have a special message: Hey, it's the Left Bank of the Corn Belt, and if you don't like it, move five blocks in any direction and it won't bother you anymore. And you know what else? Learn to parallel park while you're at it, you hicks.
That said, get ready to hate on Uptown some more: They just got a Thai restaurant that puts a sledgehammer to that old restaurant rule of: cheap, good, classy--pick two. I speak here of Tum Rup Thai, opened just this June by husband and wife Steve and Somsap Hein. Somsap, a native of northern Thailand, is the executive chef, and Steve is the general manager. The two got their start as partners in the Uptown Sawatdee, and credit much of their current success to the mentorship of longtime Thai restaurateur SuPenn Harrison. Now they've expanded with Tum Rup, and if you live in Uptown, you're going to love it.
The restaurant space itself is simple but striking: Dark woods, scarlet and gold silk, glass walls, and industrial mesh blinds create a feeling of airy urbanity. It's the kind of place that seems to be so usual, in, say, Chicago, and so rarely found here. It's got all the right conveniences to make it a last-minute dinner destination: a large parking lot, a full bar, a good beer selection, and a decent, if brief, wine list. Best of all, a number of the menu's northern Thai specialties are utterly craveable.
Where to start? I'll skip the usual appetizers-to-desserts order, and just highlight a few of my favorites. First, and without compare, are the three homemade curries--green, yellow, and red. The gaeng kiow wanh, or sweet green curry, is an absolute must-order. In an ideal world, a sweet green curry is made with anywhere between nine and two dozen fresh-ground, fresh-pounded, fresh-grated, and fresh-toasted roots, leaves, herbs, stalks, seeds, chiles, dried shrimps, and spices. In the sad real world, a sweet green curry is something you can buy in a can or a jar from an Asian foods wholesaler to pass off on an unsuspecting public, and while it's often pleasant to receive, it's good the way Campbell's tomato soup is: good enough, but not restaurant-good.
Tum Rup's green curry is restaurant-good: sweet like a fruit, hot like an August shadow, herbal as a jungle trek. It comes with wok-seared red, yellow, and green bell peppers, Japanese eggplant, squash, green beans, zucchini, peas, scallions, and Thai basil, and is as lively and exciting a curry as you'll find anywhere. (All of the curries at Tum Rup start at $8.95 for a version made simply with veggies, and then creep up in price, depending on what you order; $9.95, for instance, for tofu, mock duck, pork, or chicken, and all the way up to a splurge of every seafood they offer all together--shrimp, squid, and scallops, $15.95.)
The yellow curry, gaeng daeng kah ree, is perky and pointed, more flame than heat, and can be had as a sauce with vegetables or transformed through the phenomenal pineapple fried rice ($7.95 to $15.95), in which cooked rice is dry-fried with the pungent yellow spice blend until each and every grain is transformed into a prickly bit of dust. Then cubes of sweet, fresh pineapple, fluffy strips of omelette, and toasted cashews are blended together, and the dish is served with fresh sprigs of cilantro, slices of cucumber, and scatterings of scallions. I can pretty much guarantee it will be the best fried rice you've had in your life.
The last of the ultra curries is Tum Rup's red curry, best experienced as the mee kah teeh, or rice noodle with red curry ($7.95 to $15.95). Order this and you get a tureen brimming with rice noodles swimming in a pungent, twilight haze of uniquely smoky depths. The noodles are served topped with smashed toasted peanuts, a julienned fluff of fried omelette, lots of cilantro, bean sprouts, and fried strips of onion and chile. Every bite seems different: This one's fresh, this one's spicy, this one's rich, this one's creamy, and now we start again; it's a great dish.
If anything with coconut milk seems too heavy for you in the summer heat, Tum Rup offers a notable number of light and healthy choices. Try the glass noodle salad, in which poached bits of chicken and fresh herbs decorate a lime juice-saturated salad of cold glass noodles arranged on a bed of lettuce and tomatoes ($7.25). Another standout salad combines grilled shrimp and squid with lots of fresh-grated ginger, green flares of cilantro and mint, and thin-sliced lemongrass on a healthy bed of cucumbers, lettuce, and sliced tomatoes. The sweet grilled salmon ($13.95) is a fillet of citrus-glazed fish beside a heaping stir-fry of asparagus, green beans, zucchini, and fresh spinach. It's got to be one of the nicest healthy dishes to hit Minneapolis this year.
I enjoyed much of what I had at Tum Rup. The tom yum soup (from $7.95) has an appealing sourness that is as clear as a bell's peal, and, when I tried it, was overflowing with good, clean, silky straw mushrooms. The pad Thai is a nice version, dusted generously with peanuts. The only quibbles I had with any of the food was that the beef the restaurant opened with is tough and may need an upgrade, the fish-cake appetizer was rather heavy, and the appetizers generally are unimaginative.
It's hard to judge service for such a new place, but twice when I was there it was flawless, and the last time it was impossible. First the food took 45 minutes to arrive, and after that our server disappeared altogether, and we were prevented from ordering a second glass of wine, or dessert, or anything in our helpless state.
Then again, if you skip the appetizers and that second glass of wine, it can be an incredible boon to your budget. And we all know that Uptowners need to save every penny they can, especially at this time of year, in the precious days before the Metris Uptown Art Fair. Yes, the art fair is nearly upon us, August 5, 6, and 7. According to the website, www.uptownminneapolis.com, this year the event is expected to draw 350,000 sweaty non-parallel-parkers who will stow their RV in your driveway, deposit their camping trash in your recycling bin, and spend a day or two drifting into traffic like blind geese while shedding clods of napkins and peeing on your garage.
Oh wait. I read that wrong. It's expected to draw 350,000 art lovers. Art lovers.
Anyhoo, if all you Uptown dwellers took all your saved pennies and used them for a big Tum Rup takeout order, you could draw the blinds and run the air conditioning, and reemerge only once Uptown was back to its usual Uptown state of mind. A state of mind into which Tum Rup Thai fits quite well.
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