Every Midwestern kid discovers the golden wonton at their local Chinese buffet — a fried treat to load the plate with before beelining to the soft serve. Children love the innocent crunch of the cream cheese wonton. It’s simple and smooth and basically makes them think they’re getting away with dessert before dinner. But let’s face it: The cream cheese wonton doesn’t really rank high on the adult list of palate pleasers.
Some Twin Cities establishments have tried to elevate the dish. Take Thom Pham, for example, the chef behind Thahn Do, Azia (R.I.P.), and the brand new Wondrous Azian Kitchen. Pham’s cranberry cream cheese puffs (below) are a favorite that made the cut in the move from Azia to Wondrous. They are listed on the menu as Thom Pham’s Wondrous Cranberry Puffs, in a special curling font. And their appearance is just as fancy schmancy. Biting into one reveals a practically fuchsia (okay, the lights were pretty low) interior, speckled with cranberry bits. They are plainly sweet, slightly squishy, and cheesy, sparked occasionally by a bit of scallion garnish.
But there are some new cream cheese specimens on the other side of town that just might take the wonton from good to yowzer. You can find them at Wok in the Park, St. Louis Park’s newest Asian spot, and funnily enough, the brain child of Thom Pham’s three sisters. Cheekily labeled Puffs in the Park, the little fried packages (pictured, top) are composed of “cream cheese, scallions and Crais’n Curry” — a similar description to the Wondrous Puffs. Nevertheless, they are hot and crisp, and their filling is a balanced and punchy combination that echoes a spicy homemade tomato soup rather than a super sweet bagel schmear. With a heat that fills every corner of your mouth, the wontons at Wok transcend what can sometimes be an overlooked appetizer or pseudo dessert.
The Puffs in the Park are just a glimpse into the what sisters Charis (left, above), Grace (center), and Hannah (right) pour into their first restaurant. From Perkins to Thahn Do, the three women grew up working in restaurants, often alongside their other siblings.
With the help of their head chef and brother, Jacob, they’ve managed to achieve some of their key goals. For one thing, “We’re completely MSG free,” says Grace. Hannah says they work hard to balance the flavors in every dish, in order to negate the need for this nutritionally controversial additive; “When you can do it [without MSG], the flavor is better. So now we have real flavors, real sweet and real salty and real spicy. You just have to balance them right.”
They also offer diners a variety of meat choices (including salmon and squid), as well as vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options for virtually every dish. The menu covers classic Chinese dishes, like Kung Pao Chicken and Chow Mein, and dips into Thai and Vietnamese cuisines as well.
Stop by Wok in the Park for a bowl of vegan Pho, if you please, as you sit at one of the sleek black tables beneath a constellation of paper globes and panels of Japanese-inspired graffiti. Or, just order a mountain of those Puffs, for here or to go. Your inner child will be glad.
3005 Utah Ave S
St. Louis Park, MN 55426
CHEF / OWNERS: Jacob Johnson / Hannah Johnson, Charis Fishbein, Grace Johnson
BAR: Beer and Wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Not really
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $7-19
Thom Pham’s Wondrous Azian Kitchen
533 Hennepin Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN 55403
CHEF / OWNER: Thom Pham
Mon-Fri 11 am-2am
Sat-Sun 10 am-2am
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $12-40
can someone please fill me in a bit on Thom Pham’s family situation? Maybe I’m presumptive, but I was a little surprised to hear that those 3 girls are his sisters….
great great great
I’m sorry, but (to respond to your tweet) I’ve had these, and they are not the perfect cream cheese wanton—because the perfect CREAMCHEESEWANTON does not involve cranberry, given that cranberry is not part of its name. I will continue the search!
Erika – read this:
So I agree that this article needs more information.
like what’s the story behind his sisters opening up a restaurant across the street from the new thanh do in the old space.
Erika: Pham was adopted by Charis, Grace, and Hannah’s family.
rlibson: You make a good point. I had trouble finding out more about the siblings’ current relationship–the Johnson sisters told me they only wish their brother the best in his ventures.
After considering my earlier comment as it might apply to cheesecake, I’m eating my words.
Eh, Martha, wanton and wonton are two very different things.
What does the relationship of Pham and the Johnson sister’s have to do with anything. This is not Reality TV, it is food. So it is really none of your business and is irrelevant to the dining experience. All I can say is that I know the Johnson sister’s somewhat, and know for a fact that they Wok On both inside and outside the restaurant. They run an amazing restaurant and the girls can sing, too. Which reminds me, we have a birthday celebration which is past due – time to go for a Wok in the Park.
Alright PsyDanny I’ll break it down to food.
It’s the exact same as Thanh Do. Take your pick – I’ve eaten at both multiple times and they’re basically interchangeable.
Actually, I have waitressed at both Thanh Do and Wok in the Park and can tell you, from an insider’s perspective, that they are not the exact same restaurant. The quality of ingredients used at Wok in the Park far exceed those used at Thanh Do. As for cleanliness, Wok in the Park is hands down exceedingly more sanitary (as Thanh Do was under the Johnson’s command). Believe me, I have some stories I could tell from my post Johnson Thanh Do days. Thanh Do got so bad that I could not work there with clean conscious and ultimately had to quit (as did MANY others). I will not digress any longer. The bottom line is that, in my opinion, there is no choice. Wok always wins because they care about the quality of the cuisine they are serving, the happiness of their customers, and the well being of their employees. It’s an establishment that is refreshing to patronize (fyi I only worked there for a small amount of time and now live out of state). Also, Jacob goes the extra step when creating delicious and unique specials and I have yet to be disappointed by anything I have ordered.
I would also have a hard time eating at wondrous or thanh do knowing that Thom Pham is suing his sisters and family for every nickel they have.
“The reason thom pham’s restaurants are in the permanent no-fly zone for me, as i’ve mentioned in other threads. . . i just think the guy is a terrible restaurateur who is way too self-involved and tied up in image. he uses low quality food ingredients and over-presents them. i don’t mean to be annoying in my going on about it, but a guy who is more concerned about his shoes than his sushi ingredients. . . i got nothing nice to say.
don’t get me started on him yelling at his servers for having the audacity to perspire, on a 100 degree day when his restaurant’s air conditioning went out. oh no, there are sweat spots on your servers’ uniforms, thom, while they are doing their best to continue to work for you and serve your customers. i am so sorry that they turned out to be human beings and not the blade runner replicants you ordered. you must be having a tough time, poor thom pham. here, let me get you a cold cocktail, don’t mind the emt’s, while they are carrying out your broiler cook on a gurney because he passed out from heat stroke, you’re still making obscene amounts of money, and your shoes look great with that suit. :-/”
“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.”
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