Naviya and Kim La Barge have been a strange force in Twin Cities restaurant culture the last few years. They opened one of the best Thai restaurants the Twin Cities have ever seen in Richfield in 2007, developed a devoted, almost cultish following for their vibrant, herb-bedecked ultra-fresh creations, added a blue-collar Thai sibling called the Kalico Elephant that was equally raved about, and then vanished without a trace, closing Naviya’s last August and selling the Kalico Elephant to one of the restaurants’ cooks, who set about turning out a far less spectacular brand of food under the name Joy’s Pattaya Thai.
I have gotten at least a dozen e-mails in the last year asking: Where did Naviya go? And: Why did Naviya go? I never had a good answer—till today. I just got off the phone with Kim LaBarge, who tells me that they closed the Kalico Elephant simply because they thought they were in the process of moving it to fancier digs. But the deal fell through in the difficult credit markets of last year. Then they closed Naviya’s because of a dispute with their landlord over roof repairs. But now they’re almost back!
The scoop: The restaurant will be called the Kalico Elephant by Naviya, and they plan to relocate in the former Jade restaurant space on the east side of the Midtown Global Market. They will have a full bar, and they’re going to be doing construction so that the bar and restaurant have walls and act more as a stand-alone restaurant apart from the very open Midtown Global Market. They’ll be serving lunch, dinner, and hope to add both sushi and whole grain fusion pastas in the style of the original menu of the Atlanta restaurant Joel Brasserie, about which I know nothing. In addition to a full bar with a focus on rum, whiskey, and tequila, the restaurant will serve an array of specialty teas, including at least one cave-aged tea harvested in 1949, and antioxidant-rich non-alcholic beverages. They also hope to have on-the-half-hour deliveries to the hospital, and a special fast 20-minute lunch menu. Target opening date: Late April or early May!
“We are so excited about this,” Kim LaBarge told me. “We are ready for this, we’ve been off since August and just can’t wait to reconnect with our customers.”
If you’re one of the many Naviya fans, watch their website for further developments. Will this new Kalico Elephant be the best Thai restaurant in the city? A ridiculous claim to make—and I’ll note that I’m the one making it, not them—but there was a time I thought they were clearly the best place in town, so why not again? Spring seems closer than ever.