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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Mongkoltep Thai Restaurant, Newnan

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$-$$

Mongkoltep Thai Restaurant is a family-run operation in Newnan’s picturesque town square. Pulling into Newnan, I am hearing immediately the anthemic chorus of “Ain’t that America” from John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” in my head.

Review by Gene Lee

Review by Gene Lee

Images of wholesome families, quaint storefront businesses and the stately Coweta County Courthouse in the center of the square could have all been glancing shots in Mellencamp’s music video. I had not been to Newnan before, but this small-town charm is not new to me. I grew up in a town like this in east Tennessee.

I feel as if I’m home, but my hometown didn’t have any exotic dining choices like Mongkoltep. Owner/chef Montri Youngfuengment (Young for short) relocated to Newnan and opened the Thai restaurant 13 months ago, opting for a quieter life after a couple of restaurant ventures in metro Atlanta. Young grew up in Bangkok, Thailand, where he honed his cooking skills at his parents’ street market food stall. He demonstrates deftness at food preparation, presentation and playfulness with appetizers. But like the languid soundtrack of smooth jazz trickling from the restaurant speakers, I am uninspired by the entrees.

The biggest issue with the majority of food I sampled at Mongkoltep is sugar. It’s in everything here, and it overpowers. I don’t particularly care for too much sugar in my food (unless it’s dessert), but I understand that it is an ingredient fundamental to Thai cuisine.

Larb: lime-flavored minced chicken with cilantro and red onion (photo by Becky Stein)

Larb: lime-flavored minced chicken with cilantro and red onion (photo by Becky Stein)

The seafood lover ($16) lives up to its name, as the dish is loaded with a bouncy medley of mussels, scallops, squid and shrimp dressed in a thin, murky garlic sauce. The spicy lamb ($16) arrives in a similar garlic sauce. The restaurant gets high marks for the tender meat and the high quality of the seafood and vegetables, but I am overwhelmed by the sauce’s sweetness.

Meanwhile, spiciness is nonexistent in most of the restaurant’s entrees. The menu instructs diners to specify their preferred level of spice, ranging from one to four stars, with four being “Thai hot.” I requested three stars or “hot” for my lamb dish, but either my server forgot to instruct the kitchen or “hot” is extremely tame. I’m inclined to believe my server forgot. You can request heat on the side, cute containers holding dry ground pepper and a vibrant sambal chili sauce.

I found myself spooning dried chili over orders of barbecue chicken ($13) and massaman curry with chicken ($10) to balance out the intense sweetness. Both dishes are prepared in a rich, coconut curry sauce alongside chunks of potato and avocado. The latter arrives in a pretty two-story serving device kept warm by a votive candle contained in the bottom level.

Mongkoltep’s strengths are evident in its appetizers. The larb ($7), lime-flavored minced chicken mixed with red onion and cilantro, is an example of the Thai flavors that I love. It’s served with cabbage leaves for scooping, and the spice, salt and sugar levels strike a balanced accord. Kanom jeeb ($5) are wonderful house-made steamed dumplings with pork, shrimp and mushroom stuffed into pleated dough wrappers. The savory filling pairs well with a sweet woodsy soy dipping sauce.

A papaya salad appetizer ($8) is also enjoyable — and a sight to behold. A generous mound of shredded fresh green papaya topped with ground peanuts arrives in an elevated serving dish and is flanked by two skewers of curry-flavored chicken that are fall-apart tender. Like the larb appetizer, the subdued flavors of lime juice and palm sugar in this salad come together in harmony.

Mongkoltep Thai Restaurant has the potential to be more. I can see hints of promise in the carefully prepared proteins and the quality of the produce. But most of the dishes left me with sugar fatigue and craving more balance, more inspiration.

MONGKOLTEP THAI RESTAURANT
16 N. Court Square, Newnan, 30263, 770-683-7177
1stars5
Food: Stylishly presented Thai curry entrees and appetizers
Service: Attentive and expeditious
Best dishes: Kanom jeeb (dumplings), chicken larb, barbecue chicken
Vegetarian selections: Salads, a vegetable entree called “veggie family,” sides of rice or steamed vegetables. Many entrees offering chicken, beef or pork can be substituted with tofu, but ask if any of the sauces are made with animal stock.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Fridays, lunch noon-3 p.m., dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays, lunch noon- 3 p.m., dinner 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Sundays
Children: Yes
Parking: In Lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Low to moderate
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes
ratings_key_febUSE

12 comments Add your comment

Chris

April 21st, 2011
11:17 pm

I have been to Mongkoltep on several occasions and found the food and service to be top notch. I have also heard other customers ask that their dish be made spicer, and the staff gladly accepted and increased the heat. If something as subjective to personal taste as spice intensity can’t be handled by a food critic by simply asking for more spice…you might want to get in another line of work.

Oh, but the sugar. The sauces are supposed to be sweet genius. Thai food is about the contrast of flavors and textures. Sweet versus sour, crunchy versus smooth, savory versus acidic. But I guess you knew that being a food critic?

I anxiously await your review of a Pepsi…where you’re “overwhelmed” by the bubbles…

tradebait

April 21st, 2011
11:18 pm

thai of norcross…..hands down the best,,,,,,,,25 years in business,,,,no secret why

Gene Lee

April 22nd, 2011
8:45 am

@Chris – You’re right about the sugar use in Thai food and I acknowledged that. But I don’t want my food swimming in it as I found in most everything there. I like your “contrast in flavors” description, but unfortunately I didn’t experience that in the entrees as I did in their appetizers. Sugar dominated in 7+ entrees that I sampled including tom kha soup (which was very sweet, not balanced).

I also acknowledged that spice can be adjusted – either through Mongkoltep’s spice chart (1 – 4) or manually on your own – I’m not wagging my finger for the dishes coming out neutral.

Steven A.

April 22nd, 2011
11:02 am

Thanks for this, Gene. We have occasion to travel through Newnan every few months on the way to visiting family just across the Alabama border. Good or even passable restaurants are few and far between in that chain resto mecca (oh for the days when Gumbeaux’s had an ill-fated sister location here), so even this flawed option is something that I will keep in my back pocket for the next drive through. May stick to soups and appetizers, though.

Levi

April 22nd, 2011
12:16 pm

I work in Newnan and have been to all the asian resturaunts in Newnan . I would recommend Yumi Asian Fusion for the very best asian food in town. All there ingredients are made fresh and they have a very authentic taste. I remember the server of Yumi Asian Fusion used to categorise the level of spices as mild, a little touch, or VOLCANO ( LOL.. I like the way they say that)…… The resturaunt Yumi Asian Fusion is conveniently located off exits 47 of Publix shopping center. Gene, You really need to TRY Yumi OUT!!! I promise you will give them at the very least four stars for sure!!!!!

MIMI

April 22nd, 2011
12:31 pm

Gene, You were at wrong place…. Try Yumi Asian Fusion of Newnan next time …… I believe you will give Yumi at least four stars …. I have been to Mongkoltep once which I have never returned since… .

Robert Youngfuengmont

April 22nd, 2011
1:46 pm

We were a little surprised to read the review of “sugar fatigue”, and we apoligize that the lamb dish did not come out as spicy as you had hoped. At Mongkoltep, we have the ability to customize dishes to suit your sweet or spicy taste. We will continue to strive for authentic, fresh, and invite you to revisit us on the square, for a top-notch dining experience ….on the house.
BTW, the photos looked yummy. Mongkoltep is still an alternative to mundane dining in a small community.

Gene Lee

April 22nd, 2011
2:44 pm

Robert – Thanks for chiming in, and I hope to try you all again someday. It’s against our policy to take freebies though.

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Autumn

April 27th, 2011
2:46 pm

I know my palate isn’t as educated as yours, but since I lived in Asia and have have eaten Thai food at least twice a week for the last 20 years I thought I’d chime in.

First off I’m not sure how you feel you could competently judge a food known for it’s sweetness when you admit “I don’t particularly care for too much sugar in my food (unless it’s dessert), but I understand that it is an ingredient fundamental to Thai cuisine.” That’s like sending a vegetarian to review a steakhouse. They know meat is fundimental to the steakhouse but I’m sure they won’t rate it too well because “everything had a meaty taste.”

I have been to every Thai restaurant within a 30 mile radius of Newnan and Mongkoltep is without question the best. I would actually say that they have some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. I have had the 7 items you ordered and in addition I have had another 25 of the over 40 items they offer on their menu. Some of the items I have of course liked better than others, but I have had NOTHING I would not order again. Again, I’m not sure how accurate my opinion is since most of what I have to compare Mongkoltep’s food to is the Thai food I ate in Thailand and not the highly authentic food found here in the Atlanta area. But the bottom line is, if you like good, authentic Thai food, Mongkoltep is your place.

Those who can — do. Those who can’t — criticize.

Jake Ryan

April 27th, 2011
6:23 pm

Why is it that OTP’ers are always the ones crying about less than stellar reviews of your craptastic suburbian restaurants. CRYMORE

Gene Lee

April 28th, 2011
1:19 pm

@Autumn – What I looked for was balance and I did find it there in some dishes, but off kilter in quite a few others.

Barbecue chicken – intensely sweet but balanced. It had depth, earthy flavors from potatoes, nutty oily chunks of avocado. I listed this as one of their better dishes as a matter of fact.
Tom yum soup – sweet and thin. No tang, no heat, no depth. Tom kha soup – syrupy..
Seafood Lover, venison special, spicy lamb – all heavy handed in sugar (too much in the forefront, sugar overshadowed all other flavors).
Larb, papaya salad, kanom jeeb – Perfect. Harmonious sweet, sour, savory, crunchy, etc…

I haven’t lived in Thailand but have had quite a few enjoyable Thai experiences stateside where flavors were more balanced.