Successful restaurateur Supenn Harrison made her first foray into the restaurant business more than 30 years ago, when she bought a burger joint in the Twin Cities. For Supenn, slinging patties wasn't enough to satisfy her love of the culinary arts; the Thailand native and former teacher quickly traded deep fryers for woks and opened her first Thai restaurant.
She eventually launched the first Sawatdee in 1983 in an abandoned warehouse, transforming the unlikely setting into something you might see in the heart of Bangkok, with gold-leaf ceilings and traditional artwork. Now, Supenn owns seven Sawatdee restaurants throughout Minnesota and has expanded the menu to include sushi dishes. Besides sharing her culinary skills through hands-on cooking classes, Supenn has disseminated her authentic Thai fare by catering birthday celebrations, family reunions, and the Rolling Stones' anti-retirement party.
Chef Nong's culinary journey began in Bangkok at age 12, when she would procure supplies from the corner market and cook for her family. She spent her adolescence perfecting her mother and grandmother's recipes, and then gained extra practice when she started a family of her own.
At age 35, Nong decided it was time to share her culinary flair with members of other families. She progressed through restaurant jobs in Thailand and Malaysia before landing a gig in Minneapolis, where she earned her sriracha-soaked stripes by cooking at a number of area restaurants before opening her own eatery, Nong's Thai Cuisine.
In her own kitchen, Nong relies on her stockpile of inherited recipes to create a menu of authentic, homestyle Thai fare, which earned the eatery the distinction of Best Thai Restaurant 2010 from City Pages. Featured in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, the "perfectly timed noodles" of the pad thai carry al dente firmness, and the "high quality" curries stimulate taste buds in a more refined manner than chili pepper stimulates the eye. Flavors of tamarind and papaya infuse salads and stir-fries, and crisp veggies top noodle dishes, all calibrated to customer-chosen levels of heat.
Using natural meats from local farms and culinary inspiration from all across Asia, skilled chefs craft dishes such as tom yum noodle soup and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches filled with Korean BBQ pork. Patrons can customize their orders of Japanese shoyu ramen with an assortment of meats and veggies, including pork belly, calamari, bok choy, and wild mushrooms. Kinsen Noodles & Bar also offers an array of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, which diners can devour while seated inside a cozy booth or standing atop a table. The restaurant's wall of mirrors reflects the cool blue glow of the bar, where mixologists concoct fruity drinks ranging from classic sangria to rum punch with coconut milk.
At Lemon Grass Thai and Sushi, Chef Ann Sengmavong draws from her travels across Asia, Europe and the United States to cultivate a menu of colorful, fragrant curries, entrees of delicate fish and savory roast duck, and fresh sushi. Thai dishes seamlessly blend complementary flavors, such as the Nuea-Sawan's savory dried beef mixed with spicy ginger and garlic, or the Black Out's earthy mix of shiitake mushrooms accented by a zesty black bean sauce. Diners at the sushi bar witness the craftsmanship and knife juggling skills that goes into each spicy salmon maki or seabass nigiri. Autumnal orange walls and blonde wood furnishing creates an earthy, inviting atmosphere in the dining area. When not whipping up curries or pan-frying noodles in the kitchen, Chef Ann teaches curious patrons in the art of Thai cooking with group lessons at Crocus Hill or private classes in clients' homes.
Stone tiles surround a serene Buddha as he presumably listens to the light chatter ricocheting off the carved wooden walls and ceiling. The cuisine at Chiang Mai Thai is just as nuanced. Chef Thi Mai Evans nods to Bangkok street food with appetizers such as chicken satay and sweet dried beef, but then turns toward southern Thailand with comforting curries spiced to the preferences of her diners. She also draws from the Thai royal family's cookbook to balance hot and sour flavors in tom yum soup. Along with piquant dishes, the candlelit Buddha Lounge encourages social dining with creative cocktails infused with thai basil and lemongrass. It also hosts events such as Back Alley Karaoke every Thursday, which is sometimes known as Friday's slightly more responsible sibling.
Manned by professional drivers, the pedal-powered Traveling Tap carts up to 16 passengers around Minneapolis and Saint Paul via one of three routes listed here. It's up to guests to supply their favorite beers, wines, or malt beverages which the personal bartender pours into cups or stores in the bar-on-wheels’ built-in coolers. Throw on your ear-flap cap and goulashes for early season rides or let the misting system keep you cool on warm summer days. Traveling Tap also boasts adjustable seats to fit all sizes, seat backs, and a smooth ride even Grandma would enjoy. Listen to tunes from a six-speaker overhead stereo while you take in the sights and sounds of the Twin Cities on each 7-mile-per-hour trek.
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