Saturday, February 24, 2018
Restaurants

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
This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

FIELD OF GREEN: COLLARD FEST On Saturday you can devote your whole day to the beauty of collard greens. Well, that’s the jumping off point. Collards are the "central ingredient" at the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival at St. Petersburg’...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/22/18
Where you can trade in your Gasparilla beads for doughnuts

Where you can trade in your Gasparilla beads for doughnuts

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts will be trading old Gasparilla beads for its famous glazed doughnuts.Anyone who brings in 12 pounds of beads to Krispy Kreme on Saturday will be rewarded with a dozen original glazed doughnuts, according to a news release.For t...
Published: 02/21/18
Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

TAMPAIt wasnít that long ago that Platt Street was a bit of a conundrum for restaurateurs: Not exactly downtown, without the dense auto traffic of Kennedy, and far enough off the South Howard main drag that it didnít entirely qualify as part of SoHo....
Published: 02/19/18
The Reading Roomís Lauren Macellaro and Columbiaís Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

The Reading Roomís Lauren Macellaro and Columbiaís Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

Itís almost a sick joke. On the morning after Valentineís Day, the second-busiest restaurant day of the year, chefs all over the country are hauling themselves out of bed early to find out: Did I make it onto this yearís James Beard Foundation list o...
Published: 02/15/18
Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters opens in South Tampa, plus learn how to roll sushi at Kelp

Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters opens in South Tampa, plus learn how to roll sushi at Kelp

LOVE STUNT: SUSHI ROLLSIf you dropped the ball Wednesday and did bubkes for your sweetie, hereís a tip: Through Sunday at Kelp in South Tampa, couples can dive into a reservations-only chef-led art of sushi rolling class that comes with bottomless sa...
Published: 02/14/18
Out of time this Valentine's Day? Five ways to still have a romantic meal

Out of time this Valentine's Day? Five ways to still have a romantic meal

Valentine’s Day is Wednesday, and that means your odds of scoring a reservation at a popular restaurant are roughly equal to the odds of you opening your own restaurant in time for dinner. Thinking about showing up somewhere with no reservatio...
Published: 02/13/18
Review: 2nd & Second will serve you 24/7 in St. Petersburg

Review: 2nd & Second will serve you 24/7 in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURGAn older couple sits at a booth, hunched over mugs of coffee, occasionally murmuring in a way that seems more soliloquy than conspiracy. Outside at a table, two travelers pay their tab, plates streaked with cold yolk. They ask for direc...
Published: 02/12/18
Review: Maybe the Lure can beat the odds at this unlucky South Tampa location

Review: Maybe the Lure can beat the odds at this unlucky South Tampa location

TAMPA -†This will be my fourth review of restaurants in this space, all of them more or less favorable: Bistro Bleu (a sophisticated New American charmer), Marrakech (Yay! We have almost no Moroccan food here! Bring on the tagines!) and Catrinas Taco...
Updated one month ago
Here's what you can eat at the Armature Works' new Heights Public Market

Here's what you can eat at the Armature Works' new Heights Public Market

TAMPA — "This project will change the DNA of Tampa." Bold words from Ferdian Jap, co-owner of Zukku, one of 14 vendors who began selling their food and drink to the public Thursday at the anticipated Heights Public Market at the Armature Works...
Updated one month ago
Valentineís Day ideas for Tampa Bay foodies: wine and chocolate, berry picking and more

Valentineís Day ideas for Tampa Bay foodies: wine and chocolate, berry picking and more

PICKING: BERRY FASTLooking for something fun, yet competitive, to do with your sweetie in advance of Valentineís Day? Wish Farms and Monte Package Co. are collaborating on the fifth annual Strawberry Picking Challenge this weekend.The main event Satu...
Updated one month ago