By Phyllis Stein-Novack

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted Feb. 7, 2013

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Circles offers the area a taste of Thai via takeout or a dine-in option across the street.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

“Phyllis, I don’t think this is a restaurant,” Edward said as he pulled into a parking spot on Tasker Street one block off Broad. “It looks like a take-out shop.”

“That is a take-out shop, but I think the restaurant is across the street,” I said. “There’s an awning over the entrance.”

Finding Circles can be a bit confusing. The restaurant began as a take-out shop until last year when Bangkok-born chef/owner Alex Boonphaya realized his vibrant, fresh Thai cuisine also needed a place for his guests to dine in.

All the cooking is done across Hicks Street. Servers carefully ferry trays of food protected by plastic covers to the tables. It was a miracle the food remained nice and hot.

The decor is simple and cozy. The space is painted in soft café au lait with black and white photographs of the city.

It is a rare occasion when the food is as fine as the service. Edward and I felt as if we were dining in someone’s home. Our waitress knew every item on the menu, describing some dishes as light and creamy, explaining the degree of hot and spice and letting us know the special of the night.

We began dinner with Thai rolls ($6), which consisted of eight small, plump, crispy treats sitting on a bed of cool, shredded carrots; red and green cabbage; and shallots. The wrappers were fashioned from rice paper, which were thin, light and crispy, and generously filled with seasoned minced pork; heady, earthy black mushrooms; and crisp water chestnuts. The filling was a first for us, and we enjoyed the play of flavors and textures. Sweet plum sauce can be cloyingly sweet, but Boonphaya hit the mark. It imparted a light, sweet flavor set off by the chopped peanuts he added to the sauce.

Crispy calamari ($7) can be a bore, but Boonphaya seasoned the crumbs splendidly before the not-at-all chewy squid rings were dusted and flash fried. The sweet and spicy chili sauce, which arrived with the squid, was a smart move. The ratio of sweet to peppery was just right.

Dumplings, whether steamed or pan-seared, are a mainstay of all Asian restaurants, but I have never tasted them filled with pork and crabmeat. The combination intrigued us. Five plump handmade dumplings ($7) were prepared with a blend of minced pork and delicate crab, gently pan-seared and served with a French-inspired tasty soy dipping sauce. 

We decided to take our server’s advice and order the chicken and duck special ($18.95). As for the degree of spice, we felt medium was the way to go.

Boonphaya began with a boneless breast of duck that he seasoned and crisped to such perfection that the meat remained juicy and tender while the luscious skin was crisp and bursting with flavor.

We do not usually enjoy boneless chicken breast, but this version was a marvelous payard, pounded thin and cooked just a minute or so on each side. A tasty mélange of fresh vegetables, including broccoli, julienned carrots, red and green bell peppers, scallions and shallots were strewn on the plate. A light, brown sauce, which could have emerged from a French kitchen, dazzled this most generous entrée.

A choice of white or brown rice came with the meal. Brown rice can be soggy and mushy, but ours arrived almost toasted with a nut-like crunch.

Circles is the only restaurant I know of where the food is prepared in one place and carried across the street. It was pretty busy on the night we dined yet our waitress perfectly tended to everyone’s needs. There were a number of regulars, and they all brought bottles of wine.

I noticed an unusual drink that went by and our server gave us a sample. It was made with black tea, half-and-half, cardamom and vanilla and served over ice. 

“Goodness, it tastes like the best vanilla milkshake I ever had,” I said to my husband. 

Boonphaya came to America at age 12 and graduated from Florida’s Le Cordon Bleu. The French techniques he honed at this school are evident here and there in the fresh, colorful and vibrant Thai dishes he prepares for his patrons.

Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to Circles.

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Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. Fred said... on Feb 7, 2013 at 09:00AM

“Thanks for reviewing this. I live across Broad Street and only venture to the west side if I have to. As far as I knew there were only schlocky takeout Asian places at 15th & Tasker.

So Edward has a car! So Phyllis is making a concerted effort to review non-yuppy non-Stephen Starr restaurants in South Philadelphia, the area this paper is published for. There is a God.”

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2. Marty Medals said... on Feb 7, 2013 at 12:24PM

“For the second time in recent memory a really well thought out and well written review.
Congrats Phyllis.”

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3. said... on Feb 7, 2013 at 06:00PM

“This place is one of the best restaurants in South Philly, hands down. The food is just as good in the review even when you order delivery. Try the curries”

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4. Edward said... on Feb 7, 2013 at 06:23PM

“I don't think that was a restaurant. Wasn't it Astral Plane?”

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5. Angela said... on Feb 8, 2013 at 12:06PM

“I agree 100% with both Fred and Marty Medals.
I work in Bala Cynwyd and they have a location up here. We will be trying Circles at our next delivery company luncheon!

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6. Broad Street Diner said... on Feb 9, 2013 at 10:13AM

“Next time you're in the neighborhood try the amazing Indonesian food at Hardena/Waroeng Surabaya, 1754 S Hicks St.”

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7. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Feb 9, 2013 at 02:33PM

“I will. I enjoy Indonesian food. thanks so much.”

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8. Jack said... on Feb 9, 2013 at 08:08PM

“Hardena is great! Huge portions, very inexpensive, and the people are super friendly. Not much seating, so be prepared to get food to go.

I'll be trying Circles soon.”

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9. Marty Medals said... on Feb 11, 2013 at 06:57PM

“It should noted that this section of South Philly contains almost the largest population of Cambodian Americans In the country.
We are blessed to have such a diverse population in South Philly”

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10. Anonymous said... on Feb 12, 2013 at 08:18AM

“yeah we really need diverse
I liked it better when I lived there 1960s all Italian.”

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11. Gino said... on Feb 12, 2013 at 03:17PM

“Yeah, I sort of agree with Anonymous. What good is it doing me to have an egg roll and pho soup with rat meat and end up with the runs. Not to mention the dirty sidewalks they don't bother to clean and neighbors who can't even speak English.”

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12. Sal said... on Feb 12, 2013 at 05:40PM

“Marty, ever venture down to FDR park on Sunday afternoon? 500 Cambodians polluting the air with their smoky barbecues (illegal), gambling on card games (against park rules), leaving toilet paper in the woods (filthy), and marketing their vegetables (no license). Don't believe me? Go to the back tennis courts by the interstate, particularly in warm weather. Enjoy your diversity.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Feb 13, 2013 at 12:59PM

“Rat meat is no different than cat meat which is no different than cow meat. Get over it.”

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14. Jordan said... on Feb 13, 2013 at 05:04PM

“Phyllis: THANK YOU FOR MAKING LAST THURSDAY THE ABSOLUTE BEST DAY I'VE EVER HAD AT WORK!!! I thought it was going to be a typical day of service until a local couple came into the restaurant with the hungriest eyes. "Have you seen the article about yous guys in todays Review?" they asked with perfect South Philly diction. Before I could even reply, I found myself scouring Tasker Street for a copy of the paper. To my surprise, and honor, I found your review of Circles and MY service! I instantly remembered your ardor for unique flavors and the curious smile on your husbands face throughout dinner. Everything makes so much sense now! Did I ever mention my ultimate dream in life is to have my opinion on food matter to the world? Please email me! Let's talk food!!!”

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15. Anonymous said... on Feb 13, 2013 at 05:58PM

“Aha! Phyllis has been outed! And Edward too, with his "curious smile" (too many Rob Roys at the house beforehand, Edward?). Good job, Jordan.”

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16. Grace said... on Mar 10, 2013 at 07:18AM

“So thankful for your Reviews, so spot on! You saved the day..After my daughters All-City Concert @ the Kimmel (it has been tradition to stop for a bite) but it was late this past Monday. On way home South on 15th I remembered Circles article! She was so grateful, had to do take-out they were closing down, She loved it & the surprise Thai-tea (I'm told what your reference to milkshake must of been)! And oh how impressed I was on the scrub down of the kitchen! Workers were very friendly & can't wait to go back & dine in Restaurant!”


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