Is Naviya’s Thai Brasserie the best new Twin Cities restaurant of the last five years?
Restaurant critics aren’t the toughest critics in town—our spouses are. I know one local restaurant-critic spouse who only goes out for steakhouse duty. Another only goes to restaurants on second visits, if and when quality has been assured. Whereas restaurant critics are typically thrilled with the grand pageant of restaurant life—now the food is tall! Now it’s foam! Now it’s headcheese! Marvelous!—restaurant-critic spouses reluctantly tag along because, when else will you see your wife? ¶ So it was with great surprise that I received my husband’s verdict on Naviya’s Thai, the new Thai restaurant in Linden Hills: It’s the best restaurant to open in Minneapolis in five years, he declared flatly. Really? I asked, shocked. In five years? By what criteria? The vegetables, he said. Well, yes. We visited in the dead of winter, and the vegetables were brilliant: cauliflower cut into little bouquets, carrots sliced into tulips, geometric pyramids of romanesco broccoli as well as carefully handled branches of regular broccoli, all served crisp-tender so that they glowed like jewels alongside enoki mushrooms delicate as puffs of air. If you told me that Naviya’s was a stunt staged by heirloom-vegetable seed peddlers, I’d believe you. ¶ Also, the flavors, my husband said. Indeed: The two soups, the tamarind-sour thom-yum-koong and the light and sweet coconut-milk-based thom-kha-gai, are each miraculous. The thom-yum-koong is concentrated and deep, boasting layers of tamarind, galangal, lemongrass, and chili spice woven together like voices in a thunderous chorus. The thom-kha-gai is light, lemony, and diaphanous as a rainbow at sunrise.
In contrast, there’s the complicated depth of the Massaman curry. Made with grass-fed beef shank, it’s like the best osso buco you’ve ever had, played in another key. It’s unusual to find a beef shank in a Thai restaurant, but that’s how Naviya’s has always done things. The differences between the prior incarnations of Naviya’s—in Grand
Marais and Richfield—and the present, and best incarnation, are many. Primarily, the new location feels urban and both easy and sophisticated, with its airy interior of gray and tangerine and glass. This new one also has a far better wine and beer list then the others ever had (Napa Smith Pale Ale is a particularly nice foil to the Massaman-curry beef shanks). It’s also more controversial: The place opened to cries of bad and slow service. However, every time I’ve dined there, I’ve had only great, attentive, thoughtful service. Albeit, I’ve also only been there when the restaurant is half full (and, as there are only a dozen tables, half full is not very full at all). How is Naviya’s when there’s a line out the door? I’ve never seen it like that, so I couldn’t say. I can say that based on my visits, it’s the best Thai restaurant in Minnesota, and that I’ll be back on my own dime, for a certain special someone’s next birthday.
A rarity: a genuine Thai restaurant with food that receives only the best chef-driven locavore touches.
Ideal Meal: Thom-kha-gai coconut lemongrass soup and Massaman curry with beef shank. Tip: Classic fried egg-roll fans may want to order each and every variety. Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. daily; Dinner 4–8 p.m Monday–Thursday, Sunday; till 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Prices: Most entrées $12–$17. Address: Naviya’s Thai Brasserie, 2812 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-276-5062, naviyas.com