When I walked into the Northeast Minneapolis Thai restaurant Sen Yai Sen Lek, I was greeted by a friendly staff person (turns out it was the proprietor Joe Hatch-Surisook!) asking if I would like to be seated. I opted to watch for the rest of my party from a cozy window seat, but they let me know I could migrate to the bar as well.
As I looked at the overflowing community board and colorful accent walls, regulars (they had to be, judging from the ease with which they pronounced the dish names) came through to order take-out. In a lot of restaurants there’s a feeling of barely contained panic surrounding the dinner rush. The atmosphere at Sen Yai Sen Lek – which means “big noodle little noodle” – was relaxed despite the steady stream of diners.
When my friends arrived, we ordered an appetizer (Gai Satay, chicken skewers with peanut sauce) to tide us over while we mulled over the good things to choose from. In addition to the usual ingredient and pricing list, the menu also informs the diner of the philosophy behind their food. According to the Guiding Principles, the proprietors value cultural authenticity and community orientation as well as social and environmental sustainability – all good things!
Spring rolls, curries, soups, fish cakes, and of course noodle dishes are also featured on the menu. After the server answered our questions about portions, flavors and tofu, we decided on Tom Yum (soup with chicken and lemongrass), a salad made from green papaya, and a curry made with coconut milk. If good Thai food is all about a balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy, this was most certainly good Thai food. This is why I hold Sen Yai Sen Lek’s artful balance of flavors responsible for the fact that three of us polished off what could have fed five people.
But there’s always room for dessert! Khao Neow Mamuang (sweet sticky rice with mango and warm coconut milk) was just the thing to cool down our tongues after the spicy curry. After my fabulous dining experience at Sen Yai Sen Lek, I’m really looking forward to the dishes Joe Hatch-Surisook will prepare at our dinner at Big River Farms on August 19th. Join us!