When I first started reviewing Twin Cities restaurants a snarky friend who lives on a coast cracked that it wouldn’t be long before I’d find myself reviewing marginal places in the suburbs. Well, fuck you, man, that’s not what’s happening here. There are still plenty of places in the Twin Cities I’m interested in reviewing; it’s just that I want to take a wider look at the Asian food scene here, especially the places a bit closer to us. I’m on record as saying that On’s Kitchen and Bangkok Thai Deli are the only Thai places in the area worth talking about but if we can find at least a couple of places within easier reach that aren’t totally heinous then that’s something. Well, I guess this might be it. Sort of. What we ate ranged from the unacceptable to the just about acceptable, but more was in the acceptable end of the spectrum than I feared would be the case when friends invited us to join us there this past weekend.
I should say that even an evil bastard like me hesitates a little when posting a review like this of a place like this. What I mean is a) that a number of our friends seem to really like this place and I don’t really want to insult their tastes; and b) I’m always hesitant to criticize small family-run places that are trying their best (well, I guess that didn’t stop me in the case of Singapore, though I’m not sure if they were in fact trying their best). I decided to go ahead anyway because I discovered that this place has a very high rating on Yelp and what are the odds that an obscure blog like mine could hurt them over that? As for my friends, well, their judgment is clearly suspect if they have friends like me.
Anyway: Taste of Thai Yai (is there a more unwieldy restaurant name?) in Apple Valley is owned and run by a Burmese chef, who purchased the place about six years ago from the original owners (who also owned/own Taste of Thailand in St. Paul). The deal apparently required that the menu stayed the same. I don’t know if this is still being honoured but the menu is comprised of ye olde Thai chestnuts and also some of the things that have of late infiltrated even many sweet pad Thai-slinging establishments in the Midwest: larb, hor mok, northern Thai-style sausage (the presence of egg drop soup suggests they’re hedging their bets). We got some of these things and the results were variable. The same, however, was true of the chestnuts, which included chicken satay that were somewhat chicken tender’ish and a rather pedestrian masaman curry and tom yum soup. The somtum, larb and sliced beef salad, however, were better than I expected, if quite a bit below what’s served at the two stalwarts of University Ave. in St. Paul. I will say that the food was not overwhelmingly sweet; on the other hand, while we asked that things that should be hot be made “Thai hot”, we barely broke a sweat.
Here is what we ordered (click on an image to launch a slideshow with details). It’s a somewhat odd sequence of dishes because there needed to be enough that the four small children would eat, enough of the things our friends always get there (some of which were the highlights), and some of the things I wanted to try on spec (one of which was the absolute lowlight).
Service was okay—the server didn’t seemed to know the menu too well, one thing we asked for didn’t show up (just as well—it was the pork satay) and, perhaps because they were not so busy, there was a certain amount of hovering. But it was friendly. And the price was not unreasonable I suppose: I think it came to just over $90 with tax and tip for all of the above.
Would we go back? That’s a tough one. There’s no question of our choosing it as a place to go to for Thai food—in all such instances we’ll happily make the longer drive to On’s or Bangkok Thai Deli. But there are times when we find ourselves needing food in the general Burnsville/Apple Valley/Lakeville area—after movies or trips to Costco or Home Depot—and it’s then that places like Taste of Thai Yai, Satay 2 Go or Pho Everest come into play. In such circumstances we’d certainly give it another shot. Which is more than I could have said about the last Thai place we ate at in Apple Valley some 4-5 years ago.
(By the way, at the very end of the meal I chatted a bit with the chef/owner and he said they make Burmese food in the kitchen for the staff but don’t serve it in the restaurant. That’s too bad—I expect that stuff is far better.)