By Jeremy Iggers
Published January 2nd, 2003
Baby, it's cold outside. If you're feeling the need for some tropical heat, a new Thai restaurant and an old Sri Lankan favorite might fill the bill.
Unlike many local Thai restaurants, True Thai actually has a Thai owner, Anna Prasomphol Fieser, and a Thai chef, who goes by only one name, Nong. (Serious devotees of Thai food might remember Nong from her brief stint at Dara Thai in St. Paul.)
For Fieser, who still works by day as a public health nurse for St. Paul-Ramsey County, the restaurant is clearly a labor of love. While husband and co-owner Chuck Whitney manages and runs the cash register, Fieser circulates from table to table greeting customers with an infectious enthusiasm -- and a lot of pride.
Hers is the only Thai restaurant, she claims, that makes its own Thai curries from scratch, and she goes to great lengths to get the highest quality ingredients: The little round Thai eggplants are flown in from California, and the kaffir lime leaves come all the way from Thailand. Sticky rice with mango is on the menu, but she steers customers away from it; the mangos are OK, but they won't really be at their peak until late spring.
Fieser, a native of Chantaburi province in Thailand, started to bring friends along on her trips back home. The trips evolved into culinary tours, she says, and her friends started urging her to open a restaurant. On her most recent trip home, she returned with many of the crafts and works of art that decorate the dining room, as well as the serving dishes on which some of the house specialties are presented.
Many of the dishes on True Thai's menu are familiar fare: green and red curries, pad Thai noodles and sour and spicy Tom Yum soup. The difference is that here the flavors seem more subtle, and the curries less sweet than elsewhere.
But you also can find some dishes that are rarely served locally, including a superb crispy catfish salad topped with green papaya, red peppers, cashews and lime juice ($11.95), and a very savory seafood curry of shrimp, fish and mussels steamed with eggs, coconut milk and red curry paste in a foil packet that is opened tableside.
The red and green curries can be ordered with tofu or mock duck, shrimp, beef or pork or several other options ($7.95 to $9.95). One option not listed on the menu but worth requesting is fishballs, which are made to order if the kitchen is not too busy.
Singha beer ($4.50) is available, as well as four microbrews ($4 to $5) from Bell of Michigan, and a short list of inexpensive bottles from small California wineries, offered at $14 to $26 a bottle, or $4 a glass.