A recent story in the StarTribune caught my eye. Columnist John Tevlin goes in depth on the family feud going on just down the road from us in St. Louis Park where we’ve seen Thanh Do (local restauranteur Thom Pham’s cash cow) close and reopen across the street in a larger space; and his adoptive sisters reopen the original location under the name “Wok In The Park”.
In case the Strib link above no longer works (or you are too lazy to go read the article) the short version is that Thom has sued his sisters saying they embezzeled $250,000 from him. Thom doesn’t come off particularly good in the article, and it doesn’t help that Tevlin seems to say that Thom owes money to the wrong kind of people and that’s what led to a beating in 2007.
But instead of trying Thom and his sisters in the press, or in a court of law, my lovely wife Chelle and I decided to settle this dispute once and for all, in our dining room. We ordered the same 4 dishes from both restaurants and brought them home to judge for ourselves.
The order was:
- Cream Cheese Wontons
- Wok in the Park – Puffs in the Park
- Thanh Do – Fried Wontons
- Pork Fried Eggrolls
- WP – Fried Egg Rolls with Pork
- TD – Egg Rolls (Fried) with Pork
- Steak and Potatoes
- WP – Steak and Chips
- TD – Beef with Potatoes
- Pad Thai with Pork with 3 fireballs/stars
Both places told us 15-20 minutes, but as we know unless they are really busy they are typically ready in 10 minutes. When we arrived 12 minutes later at Wok In The Park, our order was ready. Chelle asked for some additionally spicy sauces and peanut sauce. A short drive across the street found us at Thanh Do and Chelle made the same request. It was early in the evening (5:30 on a Friday night) both places had three tables seated inside.
After a quick drive home we saddled up at the table with an excellent bottle of wine, a 2006 Bladen Gewurztraminer which we bought during our trip to New Zealand that same year. It was due to be drunk and I can’t think of a better meal to pair it with.
Down to business, here are our notes from the meal under several categories.
Chopsticks: Both places use the same chopstick manufacturer. Not the kind you have to break apart, which I personally appreciate.
Soy Sauce: Wok In the Park (WP) provided two lonely packets of Soy Sauce. However Thanh Do (TD) didn’t provide any. That was unusual for both. I chalk that up to Chelle throwing them both off asking for spicy sauces.
Spicy Sauces: WP provided three sauces. A fish sauce, red pepper, and peanut sauce. Thanh Do provided a fish sauce, red pepper, sri racha, sweet and sour, and peanut sauce.
Fish Sauce: WP’s was slightly more fishy, but these two were identical in appearance.
Red Pepper: WP’s was far superior. The red pepper flakes were bright and looked very fresh in a small amount of sesame oil. TD’s was drab and look old, and was more of a paste than in oil.
Peanut Sauce: Both were good, with WP’s being more peanutty, and TD’s being more soy based. A slight nod to WP (although Chelle liked WP’s hands down).
Sri Racha: TD’s Sri Racha was standard.
Sweet and Sour: a pretty standard offering when you order cream cheese wontons, so I was surprised WP didn’t provide it. I however don’t use it. With that being said TD’s is quite good as it has a little kick to it.
Pork Fried Eggrolls: TD’s eggroll was gorgeous to look at. Perfectly fried and generously large. WP’s was almost identical, but not fried quite as long; still completely cooked but wasn’t quite as visually appealing. TD’s was very dense with a strong peppery flavor. WP’s was just as dense and looked almost identical in the inside, but minus the peppery flavor. In fact I found WP’s eggroll a little bland. My vote was for TD, although Chelle preferred WP.
Cream Cheese Wantons: I am what you would call, a connisouer, of cream cheese wontons. TD’s were perfectly cooked. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside with no part of the cream cheese still semi-solid. Quite good. WP’s was equally as well cooked, but the cream cheese tasted far fresher and a little more salty. When you are talking asian food, bring on the salty. While both were good, WP’s were far better.
Steak and Potatoes: On a visit to WP a few weeks ago we decided to give this dish a try, although it seems very wrong to order steak and potatoes at an asian restauant. It was fantastic, so we decided to include it in our takeout showdown. TD’s looked fantastic coming out of the container. It had grilled and crunchy potatoes, well done (but not chewy) bits of steak, and some small chunks of onion intermixed. WP’s was very different. At the restaurant it comes with a sauce (actually both menus say the dish comes with a sweet oyster sauce, but little to no sauce was found in the Thanh Do version), which means the potatoes weren’t crispy at all. The steak was very moist, more tender than TD’s steak, and tasted a little better (perhaps grass-fed beef?). However, overall I preferred the TD version we got for takeout, but since I’ve had WP’s in the restaurant I have to call this one a draw (Chelle agreed). My advice is to ask for the sauce on the side if you order this dish takeout from WP, better yet just go inside and have it at a table. It’s perfectly american with enough asian touches to not make you feel guilty about ordering it.
Pork Pad Thai: Nothing defines a Thai restaurant (or Pan-Asian restaurant in this case) more than its Pad Thai. During the last several months at Thanh Do we noticed the Pad Thai wasn’t as good as it had been. We had heard that Thom had fired the chefs and his sisters from the restaurant (as it turns out it would appear that rumor was probably true). But now that the dust had settled, whose Pad Thai would reign supreme? Both looked delicious upon opening. But one was clearly better than the other. Both were spicy, but one was more close to what one would expect when you say “3 fireballs”. One was a little too dry and the pork was chewy. The other was moist with tender pieces of pork. One was peanutty while the other was just lacking. The TD was the spicier of the two, but WP’s Pad Thai was much better. Not even close.
As we look at the tale of the tape, it was a close and hard fought battle, but in the end it was a unanimous decision that Wok In The Park edged out Thanh Do as the best asian cusine within one block of Minnetonka Boulevard and Texas Avenue in St. Louis Park.
With the battle already won, there was still one last item to cover, Fortune Cookies. I had expected both restaurants to have the same fortune cookies, but they weren’t. TD’s were from a company in Illinois, while WP’s were from right here in the Twin Cities. TD’s tasted a little richer. But WP’s tasted fresher and crunchier. But I think you’ll need to decide which one is better for yourself.