Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sen Yai Sen Lek

Visited on Saturday, January 16th with Kate and Kyle

Sen Yai Sen Lek

Erin's Review
Since we were taking Kyle and Kate out for dinner, it seemed only appropriate to choose a place in their neck of the woods. Getting them out of northeast CAN be a challenge ;) There are a number of places I want to try in the area, but most I'd like to try when I can actually drink again - Thai places are great for not causing me to crave beer or wine at all, so that's why I went with Sen Yai Sen Lek. Even though they don't have cream cheese wontons! Somehow I survived... :)

We got to the restaurant a few minutes late, and thanks to the iPhone, discovered that Kate and Kyle were already in the bar area, which was pretty deserted. The restaurant is split into two distinct rooms, which would make it kind of nice to rent out for a party, if they do that kind of thing.

Inside Sen Yai Sen Lek

After waiting just a minute, we were seated in a booth - the booth seemed small and uncomfortable to me, but I think that has more to do with being 8.5 months pregnant and less to do with the actual booth... The decor of the restaurant was pretty minimal, but nice.

We quickly ordered, and I got the Pad See Iew Gai. Our food came out relatively quickly, starting with the chicken satay appetizer, which was pretty good. The toast points that it was served with were a little odd to me, but whatever. I really enjoyed my Pad See Iew - it was big enough for 2 meals, and had good flavor. Kyle's dish, which was some kind of spicy pork dish, was also very tasty.

Pad See Iew Gai

Sen Yai Sen Lek is fairly similar to a lot of Thai places around the Twin Cities, but what sets them apart slightly is their commitment to sourcing local ingredients and using environmentally friendly practices such as composting leftovers and garbage when possible. It is a very cozy and casual restaurant - check it out if you are in Northeast!

Ben's Review
We went to Sen Yai Sen Lek with Kate and Kyle last Saturday after a day spent making freezer meals in prep for the baby coming. You would think that I chose the spot, since this is a Thai place, but this was actually Erin's choice(!). Obviously I had no problem with it, so we headed over to NE Mpls around 6:30 or so.

We arrived and Erin put our names on the list and was told it would be about fifteen minutes. We whipped out our iPhones to check for important updates in the last 20 minutes of our lives and discovered that Kate and Kyle were already there, sitting at the bar. From twitter. FML.

We walked over to the bar (twenty feet away) and almost had time to order a drink before they came and got us for our table, as Kate and Kyle had already put their names on the list. We got a booth near the front of the restaurant, right behind the host's station. I had seen a Flat Earth brew on tap and I was hoping it was the winter warlock, but it was the Belgian pale ale, so I went with a Surly bender that was on tap. I usually can't pull myself away from the Furious, so I was glad to be forced into the bender this night.

Inside Sen Yai Sen Lek

I was tempted to try the Laab Gai (a spicy Isaan salad) that had been recommended to me, but the Ba Mee Haeng was calling out to me, which is described as "Thin egg noodles served with barbecue pork, lettuce, fried garlic, bean sprouts and cilantro". We also ordered chicken skewers for the table as an appetizer.

The skewers came out relatively quickly and with an unusual side of toast for everyone. The skewers were great with the peanut sauce and I was also glad that there were four of them, it always confuses me when places have three, five, or six pieces for an appetizer as it doesn't split very well (hell, three and five are prime numbers!).

Gai Satay

Our entrees came out without too much wait from our friendly server along with someone else who I'm pretty sure was the owner, judging by the picture on their website. If it was indeed him that's cool, as it appeared he was also cooking as well. My dish, while tasty, was difficult to eat as the noodles were very thin and it was tough to get them along with the rest of the dish onto my fork. I really liked the lettuce in the dish, it reminded me of a vermicelli salad at a place like Quang. The pork was described as barbecue but I didn't really get any barbecue flavor from the pork.

Ba Mee Haeng

Towards the end of the meal we got to watch the spectacle of another patron getting an entire pint of beer spilled all over his shirt and pants and he raced to the bathroom to salvage what he could. I always feel bad for the server and the "victim" but it's still funny regardless. It would have been better if it had been someone on a date :)

We skipped dessert to head over to Wilde Roast for coffee and cheesecake (REALLY good). I think we'll be heading back to Sen Yai Sen Lek in the future though, there are more items I'd like to try.
  • Service: Our service was great, between our server and the owner/food runner.
  • Food: Tasty food and locally sourced/organic ingredients are used where they can.
  • Drinks: They have a good beer/wine list that has something for everyone and a selection of Thai beers as well.
  • Ambiance: The website describes this as a family restaurant and I got that impression while we were there. We saw several children and babies and nobody seemed to mind, I liked it.
  • Price: The prices are right on par with most other Thai places, with the added advantage of having local/organic ingredients.
  • Convenience: They are located at Central & 24th Ave NE. No parking lot so you have to park on a side street or take one of the buses up Central.
Sen Yai Sen Lek
2422 Central Ave NE

Monday, January 4, 2010

Citizen Cafe

Visited on Wednesday, December 23rd

Outside Citizen Cafe

Ben's Review
As our Christmas present to each other, Erin and I went out to breakfast on the 23rd (which is actually Erin's birthday but many places weren't open on the 24th or 25th). After scouring our list for an acceptable breakfast place we decided on Citizen Cafe on 38th St, near Hiawatha.

I called a little after 10 to make sure they were still serving breakfast. They stop breakfast at 11am so we hurriedly hopped in the car to make sure we didn't miss out. Getting there at 10:30 on a Wednesday was no problem, especially since the route has us going through mostly side streets (we even caught a green light crossing Hiawatha, a Christmas miracle!).

Citizen Cafe is s smallish place and we almost drove by it as it was covered in snow on this day. When you walk in you can go straight into one dining area or through a door to your left into another, smaller dining area that faces out a window towards the street. It was nearly empty so we had our choice of tables and Erin chose the smaller area in front that we had to ourselves and the two friendly servers who would hang out nearby. The place is decorated simply and sparsely, matching the website and the starkness of the communist nature of their logo and posters. In the room we were in they had a huge blackboard that was beautifully drawn with their menu and artwork.

Inside Citizen Cafe

Inside Citizen Cafe

The breakfast menu has some of the standard items like steak & eggs, egg sandwich, and eggs, meat, and toast, but it also has some more interesting items like the chef selection of cheese with house-made sauces and an assortment of delicious sounding potato scramblers. Eggs benedict is only available on weekends which is usually a good indicator that it is going to be damn good.


I went with a potato scrambler that appears to not be on the menu anymore, but it had cubed potatoes, pulled chicken, some veggies, melted cheddar, with a fried egg on top. While all of the individual ingredients tasted great, the dish as a whole lacked consistency. I think it needed more cheese to let everything gel together, as little of it stuck together, making it frustrating to eat (everything rolled around on the plate).

Amish Chicken Hash

Homemade and local food lovers will like Citizen Cafe as they use locally sourced products and everything on the menu is made in house. In spite of this the prices are still reasonable, the eggs benedict are even under $10 which is getting hard to find. I think we will find our way back here on a weekend after the baby is born so Erin can give the eggs benedict a try, it's at the top of her list of things she misses due to the pregnancy.
  • Service: The service was great, both servers were friendly and knew when to leave us alone.
  • Food: Excellent scramblers, I just wish they had loaded it with more cheese.
  • Drinks: We just had coffee and oj, but they also have beer and wine, though I didn't inspect the list at all.
  • Ambiance: This is a laid back place, there was a group of six people hanging out and another couple came in with newspapers in hand, they don't seem to mind if you take your time.
  • Price: Great prices, especially given that everything is made from scratch and with local ingredients.
  • Convenience: Close to Hiawatha and the buses and they also have a parking lot.
Erin's Review
It has been tough for me to choose breakfast places I actually want to go to on our list - if we DO go, that sacrifices the "first" time where we will write a review, and in the past 8 months, I have been strongly advised against my favorite breakfast food - eggs benedict - due to the raw egg yolks in hollandaise sauce. Sometimes I will ask if the eggs in the sauce are pasteurized - I've only found one "yes" so far - Red Stag Supper Club. Mmm boy, those green eggs and ham were DELICIOUS. Most restaurants just can't tell me for sure, so I don't take the risk. At Citizen Cafe, at least they only serve eggs benedict on weekends, and this being a Wednesday, I didn't have to feel like I was missing out!

It took us awhile to get going that morning - Ben wanted to wait until he was "really hungry" before leaving, and I also made him go to Caribou to get my free birthday drink for me :) I'm actually pretty sure they stopped serving breakfast at 11:30, and that we got there at like 11:20 because I remember it being much more rushed than Ben describes - I think we left our house about 30 minutes before they stopped serving breakfast. Not sure how strict they would have been with this, but a couple that came in closer to noon did get the dinner menu.

Inside Citizen Cafe

When we arrived, I chose to sit in the room facing 38th Street (I think) because it had more windows and more light for photos :) We were all alone for a bit, which was just fine with us. After we ordered our drinks, the server brought out a small plate of pumpkin bread and scones which were both tasty.

Pumpkin bread and scones

It looks like the menu has changed since we went - I got the brioche french toast, but it was served with berries, not foster style. It reminded me a lot of the french toast we got at our B&B when we went to London last May - delicious! I ate every single bite. It seemed like a much more reasonable portion than most places, either that or I'm just eating way more right now :) I also got the fresh squeezed oj, which was a reasonable $2, unlike some other places we've been...

French Toast

Citizen Cafe was an awesome breakfast spot - I'd definitely like to return on a weekend, post-baby, to enjoy the eggs benedict, or for dinner - they have a lot of great options on the menu. The ambiance and service were wonderful - it was close to empty when we were there, so it's hard to judge how it would be if it was busy, but everyone was very friendly and attentive.

The Citizen Cafe
2403 East 38th Street