My invitation to readers to join me for dinner at Senyai-Senlek, the new Thai restaurant at 2422 Central Ave. N. E. resulted in a very intimate soiree – just me and a couple of friends, but a good time was had by all. We were delighted by nearly everything we tried, starting with the miang ka ($5.95), little do-it-yourself lettuce wraps that you stuff with roasted peanuts, dried shrimp, chopped ginger, chopped limes, fiery hot peppers, toasted coconut and a sweet and sticky pungent shrimp sauce; and the som tum (papaya salad, $7.95) – not as spicy or as stinky as the versions you can find at local Lao markets, but still very lively.
To my surprise, the khao pad kapi (royal fried rice, $11.95) also turned out to be a do-it-yourself dish: a mound of molded fried rice surrounded by glazed morsels of roast pork, slices of omelet, dried shrimp, shallots, green beans and hot peppers, which we tossed together ourselves.
The pad see iew gai (broad noodles with chicken and Chinese broccoli in a sweet soy sauce, $9.95) had just the right balance of sweet, salty and savory. The only dish I wouldn’t order again is the pad pak taohoo, a vegetable stir-fry with tofu that didn’t seem very Thai – the nightly special of mock duck curry might have been a better bet.
On our way out, we chatted a bit with Joe Hatch-Surisook, who owns the café with his wife Holly. Joe was previously sous-chef at Chet’s Taverna, where he worked for Jim Grell of the Modern Café, and Mike Phillips, now at The Craftsman, but his work in the kitchen at Senyai-Senlek is pretty much limited to quality control. Remodeling the former Palm Court restaurant into a stylish ethnic bistro was a community effort – he organized several work days, and some 40 friends and folks from the neighborhood showed up at the first one – eventually they were thanked at a special dinner when the restaurant opened, about five weeks ago.