Strictly speaking, I am not sure the dishes I sampled the other day at Mango Thai Cuisine at Selby and Dale in St. Paul really qualify as authentic Thai cuisine. I don’t remember seeing any western-style broccoli the last time I was in Bangkok, and I am pretty sure I never saw a seafood salad served over baby field greens in an oversized martini glass, or raad na noodles topped with curled strands of carrot. Ditto the crab avocado rolls, and the mango spring rolls, and the pan-grilled tuna wasabi salad.
But then again, this whole notion of authenticity is over-rated. The real problem with a lot of the Thai restaurants I’ve visited locally isn’t that they aren’t authentic; it’s that the flavors have been dumbed down – either by adding too much sugar to spicy dishes, or by skipping some of the ingredients such as galingal or lemon grass or kaffir lime leaf, that give Thai dishes their complex and memorable flavors.
To judge by the dishes I’ve tasted, the cooks at Mango Thai don’t dumb down Thai cuisine, they smarten it up, combining traditional flavors with a sophisticated sensibility. The baby field greens may have been untraditional, but the flavor of the seafood salad ($10.95) was authentically Thai. Same for the raad na noodles, wide noodles tossed with seafood ($12.95, we substituted tofu) in a savory brown sauce. The menu is limited, compared to most Thai restaurants – only one red curry and one green curry are offered, (plus a Massaman beef curry), and many of the traditional stir-fries are missing, but the kitchen seems responsive to special requests: most dishes can be ordered vegetarian.
Mango Thai is actually a sister restaurant to Chai’s, the popular little storefront on the Minneapolis West Bank, which has a virtually identical menu. As at Chai’s, the décor achieves a very stylish bistro look on an very tight budget – tabletops of varnished plywood, lamp shades from Ikea. (Just guessing.) The one essential bistro feature that is missing is a wine and beer list.
Mango Thai Cuisine, 610 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-291-1414.