Sen Yai Sen Lek (Minneapolis)

Sen Yai Sen Lek: Kao Soy

An ongoing conversation on the MSP Chowhound forum about the disease of sweetness that plagues Twin Cities Thai restaurants reminded me that we had been meaning to eat at Sen Yai Sen Lek for some time now and had not gotten around to it, despite being up in that neighbourhood on a near-weekly basis for our Indian and Korean grocery shopping. Well, as of last weekend that box on our itinerary has been checked.

It was a pleasant meal on the whole, but nothing to get terribly excited about. And certainly nothing to drive through snow to get to as we did. (Though, as my wife noted with resignation, the real reason for the outing, and the endangerment of the entire family on the highway, was to get to a whisky sale even further up north on Central Avenue.)

It’s a nice (and quite large) space. The restaurant is owned by a young couple and seems to cater to a largely Anglo crowd. (Is it offensive to suggest that the profile of their likely audience is probably signaled by the fact that the menu clearly marks everything that is “gluten free”?) Anyway, they were doing pretty brisk lunchtime business on what was less than an ideal day for eating out.

The menu is not very extensive and there’s nothing even remotely funky on it—not only are there no whole fish dishes, for example, there doesn’t even seem to be any fish on the bone.  But if the menu is largely comprised of familiar/mainstream items, the food, however, does not—based on our single experience—skew sweet. And that’s something to be thankful for in these parts. What we did not like—and this may or may not also be a function of their seemingly predominant clientele—is that a lot of things seem to be served as individual entrees, making it difficult to share things family-style and also to manage the ratio of sauce to rice (as they come out with the stir-fry on a plate with rice). And nothing that we asked to be made hot came out much above medium. Our server did recommend we add hot sauces etc. to add extra heat but I was expecting the baseline on things asked for hot to be a little hotter.

What we ate (click on an image to launch a larger slideshow with details on the dishes):

All of this came to about $105 with tax and tip. Not overly expensive—probably $18/head if all the food were eaten at one setting—but not a great deal for what it is either. It should be borne in mind though that most of their ingredients come from local farms and providers (though the term local is used somewhat loosely–some things are from Wisconsin and some from even further south than us in Minnesota). The meats etc. are probably of a higher quality than is used at other Thai restaurants and much, if not all, of the vegetables are organic. All of this, which is probably what pushes the cost past most other Thai restaurants, is also worth supporting. (And they also serve lots of local beers.) Service was fine and the food came out at a reasonable clip. There were a number of tables right by us that sat uncleared through most of our meal, but it’s entirely possible they were understaffed on account of the weather.

As for the food, I’d say it’s superior to that served in most Thai places in the Cities but far, far behind Bangkok Thai Deli and On’s Kitchen.  And while being the third best Thai restaurant we’ve eaten at in the Twin Cities is, sadly, not much of an achievement, we could see stopping in again if we’re in the neighbourhood and craving Thai. But if we leave home expressly to eat Thai our car will be aimed towards University Avenue in St. Paul.

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