Zen Yai Noodle House
15400 NE 20th Street
Bellevue WA 98007
We're Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!
By: Steve G
Hot, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter: These are the five fundamental tastes that as described by Thai culture. When we visited Zen Yai, which is somewhat of a play on words as "Sen Yai" means big noodles, we were expecting the typical Thai food that had some of the five fundamental flavors. Surprisingly, we were taken aback by the high quality of food and the extra level of spice that left two of our reviewers in a layer of pure sweat and left us wanting more.
Our first impression of Zen Yai was that it looked like a Chinese restaurant than a Thai one based on the small header below the sign that said noodle house. As we walked in, we realized it was a Thai restaurant with simple decor, nothing too flashy or kitschy. On the far side of the restaurant was a bar area with large windows help to make the restaurant feel more spacious. On Friday nights, from 6pm to 10pm, a live acoustic guitar band plays live music giving the restaurant a more vibrant feel to it.
Zen Yai offers a variety of Thai food, but also offers their own variations of Vietnamese and Japanese food. Since the restaurant was primarily a Thai restaurant, we stuck to the Thai dishes. We ordered the Pad Kee Mao Noodles($7.50), Spring Rolls($5.50), Siamese Wontons($5.95), and Kao Moo Daeng($7.50).
Our appetizers, the spring rolls and Siamese Wontons, were the first dishes to arrive at the table. The spring rolls were not like ones we usually get at Vietnamese places. More akin to fried egg rolls, they were small and did not taste especially great. We suspected that they were pre-made. Presented on a bed of vegetables, the Siamese Wontons were quite good. Wrapped with a small chunk of meat and deep fried, the initial crunch was rewarded with the tender meat center. Served with a sweet and sour sauce like the spring rolls, all of the reviewers preferred it over the other appetizer.
The Kao Moo Daeng gave Lenny quite a surprise--the expression on his face was priceless. Initially he thought he was getting BBQ chicken and pork, but what arrived was far from what he expected. Sliced into thin pieces and arranged into what could be described as a crop circle, the pieces of chicken and pork were flavored with a deep red marinade and tasted extremely sweet. The rice served with it was somewhat cold and the while the sauce was not overpowering, the entire entree was soaked in the sweet sauce. Lenny's initial impression of the dark red meat made the dish less appealing to his palette.
The Pad Kee Mao Noodles were a different story, as the dish was very appetizing. The noodles were flavorful and not particularly oily, which we liked a lot. We ordered two-star spiciness for the dish but the spice was extra hot. Now it may have been a mix-up, but we had two orders at the two-star level and both were extremely potent. Within a few minutes both reviewers were chugging down water like they were dousing a 12-alarm fire. Thankfully, the service was on the spot, as they reloaded our glasses with precious cold water. Chef Seattle warns all patrons that they might want to scale down the dishes one star or two unless you love lots of spice.
As far as prices were concerned, the dishes ended up being around $7-8 per dish and Zen Yai is not shy on the portions - you will likely be left with ample leftovers. If I had to pick a place for Thai food in the Redmond area, Zen Yai is definitely a place to check out.
If you like Zen Yai Noodle House, you may also like: