Friday, June 22, 2018
Dining

Restaurant review: Thai Prime Kitchen & Bar brings a new cuisine to Boy Scout Boulevard's restaurant row

TAMPA

MetWest International has added to its already stacked lineup at its retail center across from International Plaza and Tampa International Airport. Joining Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Kona Grill, Texas de Brazil and Del Frisco's Grille, Thai Prime Kitchen & Bar opened its doors May 11. It's a monster project, nearly 3,000 feet and almost 200 seats with a wide patio and an edgy design sense that blends brick, reclaimed wood and wide banks of windows with high, stainless steel bar stools and glamorous crystal birdcage fixtures. If you didn't know it was a Thai restaurant, you wouldn't know it was a Thai restaurant.

Frequently in these parts, southeast Asian restaurants are modest mom-and-pop affairs. This reads like the work of ambitious pros. Co-owner Jeff Fordham has three other restaurants, and partners David and Vong Chong have had Thai Samurai in New Port Richey for the past six years. (Daughter Krista has been the sushi chef there while son Michael, a culinary school grad, was most recently with Hyatt.)

Parking at MetWest has gotten to be a bit of heartache, with drivers stalking pedestrians and gunning it when they spot taillights. But once you've landed, you're likely to be seated swiftly at Thai Prime despite frequent throngs in the vestibule. And then you are handed a staggering volume of reading material: oversized double-sided laminated menus, drink menus, happy hour specials, sushi menus, etc. Don't panic. Divide and conquer. You pick a couple of sushi rolls, he can choose a noodle and a curry, I'm on soups and appetizers.

What I can't figure out is why beverages almost invariably lag behind appetizer orders. Where are servers going to retrieve wine, beer and cocktails? It's clearly not the bar right near the front door that sits between the patio and main dining room. Eventually drinks find you, but this seems like a glitch management should take a look at.

This is a sharing place, partly because some of the better dishes are things that don't lend themselves to a hold-your-own approach. Traditional Thai salads like nam sod ($12) or yum duck ($18) are bracing with slivers of ginger and red onion and a chili lime wallop, but these salads seem more refreshing and appetite-boosting if you split them among several people. Same goes for the tempura-fried or grilled fish (snapper, grouper, mahi mahi, $15-$25), which can be topped with an array of sauces, from sweet chili to green curry or zingy ginger and is served with a dome of rice. Shared, they can be accessorized, maybe with a fried rice or the volcano tofu ($18), a lovely platter of fried tofu cubes and mixed veggies. I would say that Thai Prime could add some nonfried veggie options to juxtapose with the heavier and fried entrees.

Many dishes here will be familiar to Thai and/or sushi restaurant veterans, but executions are careful and plate presentations attractive. Prices are higher than most Tampa Thai spots, but you're paying for elevated ambience. If you're looking for a bargain, orchestrate a visit during the Thai Prime happy hour, daily from 3 to 7:30 p.m., with two-for-one drafts, $6 margaritas and mojitos, and an array of sushi rolls that are two for $15. These include some crowd-pleasing classics like the Mexican (tempura shrimp, avo, roe, mayo) and the spicy tuna. And if you've felt prudently frugal with your happy hour selections, it means you can splurge on one of the sizzling volcano hot plates (think jumbo shrimp and scallops in a chili sauce, $24, all of it making enough noise and smoke to merit a short video), then finish things up with one of Thailand's near-perfect desserts: mango and coconut milk-enriched sticky rice ($8; especially soothing if you, in a moment of hubris, thought that ordering "Thai hot" was a good idea).

Boy Scout Boulevard is increasingly Tampa's restaurant row, many of the options high-end chain outposts. The only Thai option and among the only independents, this is likely to compete ably, especially given its prime location.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

     
Comments
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Published: 06/20/18
Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

ST. PETERSBURGThere are a lot of decommissioned gas stations across the country. Some have been reinvented, cleverly made over as upscale restaurants. There’s Big Star in Chicago, Elaia & Olio in St. Louis, Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Va., even Bi...
Published: 06/18/18
From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

I know we have three more months or so of hot-as-dog-breath Tampa Bay summer, but let’s start things off on the right foot with some frozen treats. Ice cream is on my mind after a recent visit to Disney Springs, when I found love in a perfect scoop o...
Published: 06/13/18
Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

LAKE BUENA VISTA Disney Springs has swiftly become a playground or trial balloon for the country?s celebrity chefs. Art Smith, Masaharu Morimoto, Rick Bayless, Guy Fieri, Tony Mantuano, Wolfgang Puck and others are already on board, with names like ...
Published: 06/13/18
A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

Going fishing is like doing your taxes. If it’s something you dive into just once a year you end up relearning the whole thing every time. Jake Whitfield eyed me, no judgment, and decided to cast for me the first time, my little wriggling greenback z...
Published: 06/11/18
Ceviche closing in South Tampa

Ceviche closing in South Tampa

TAMPA – The Ceviche restaurant at 2500 W Azeele St. is closing.Caledon Concepts, which operates Ceviche restaurants in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, said the restaurant’s last day at that location will be June 16."The expiration of the lease for...
Published: 06/08/18
Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

SAVE THE DATE: HARD ROCK B-DAYOn June 14, 1971, the founders opened their own American-style diner in an old Rolls-Royce dealership and called it Hard Rock Cafe. They had a vision to combine music, memorabilia and all-American fare. Here’s a tip: To ...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

GULFPORTWhat do we know about El Chapo, a.k.a. Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán? He ran the Sinaloa Cartel, even from prison, and first appeared on Forbes’ billionaires list in 2009. He’s 5 feet 6. He’s the father of 12 or 13 children. He has a talen...
Published: 06/04/18
Updated: 06/07/18
National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

Believe it or not, Friday is already June 1, which means National Doughnut Day is back with sweet deals.The day was created to celebrate the Salvation Army’s "Doughnut Lassies," who served the treats to American soldiers on the front lines during Wor...
Updated one month ago
A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

TAMPAThe executive chefs all fly into Columbus, Ohio. Before they step into the kitchen, before they sharpen a knife, they sit down and have a meeting, an open dialogue. They examine the whole menu: What’s working? What needs fixing? And then they ge...
Updated one month ago