Saturday, March 17, 2012

Erb Thai, 950 Wealthy St SE - 3/15/12

We have written up a few other Thai restaurants in Grand Rapids over the past couple of years but haven’t visited Erb Thai, until today.  On the corner of Wealthy and Diamond, the restaurant looks bigger than it is. 
Upon entry, you are greeted by the counter on your right, and small tables along the large windows on your left that continue along in an “L” shape past the counter. Although there were restaurant employees at the counter, no one greeted us and we were unsure if we were supposed to order at the counter or if we would be served at our table. We took a table at the bottom of the “L” and waited to find out. It felt a little like sitting in a long, abandoned hallway but we did have privacy. And a friendly server soon came along with a carafe of water for us.
The two-page menu was a very reasonable size for a Thai restaurant (dwarfed by Thai Express and Angel’s Thai CafĂ©, and larger than Rak Thai Bistro). 

There were plenty of choices for appetizers and we began with Veggie Fresh Rolls: lettuce, carrots, green onions, cucumbers, rice noodles, and cilantro wrapped in soft rice paper. The rolls were served with a sweet sauce topped with peanuts. It was lovely to behold and taste. They were indeed made fresh and the sweet sauce enhanced the flavor of the vegetables beautifully.
Unfortunately, the dish arrived without napkins, chopsticks, or silverware and we had to ask for them upon our server’s return. 

The Raa Naa noodles sounded irresistible so they became our first selection. Tofu, bean sprouts, pea pods, broccoli, mushrooms were sauteed over thick, rice noodles and served with a garlic, brown sauce. (The leftovers carried out subsequently leaked sauce all over my jeans and shoes but that’s another story.)
The noodles had a good consistency and were not over done; the dish is marked on the menu as being a customer favorite and we can understand why. 

Our next item was the Peanut Broccoli with Shrimp (Ram Long Song - the Thai name has a much better ring to it). The menu describes it as broccoli, string beans, and carrots stir-fried in creamy, sweet peanut sauce. The white rice was above par for an Asian restaurant, and the shrimp was fine as was the sauce. But the broccoli was a bit scarce considering the name of the dish.
The most important thing to know about this restaurant is that they will deliver the spice level for which you ask.  Instead of the far-ranging 10 spice levels found elsewhere, they offer six, beginning with mild (no spice).  Fresh peppers are used and the increments start with ½ tsp up to Erb Thai hot with 3 tablespoons. 

Out of the six levels, the Raa Naa noodles were ordered at three and the Peanut Broccoli at four. We were both happy with our spice levels and really appreciated receiving what we ordered.

So to sum up, the ambiance is not great but our food was fresh, nicely presented, and very well-prepared. The menu is excellent with a made-to-order spice level, and our server was friendly and polite. The small restaurant is a worthy addition to the Thai food scene of Grand Rapids. If you complain that your food was too “hot” then you didn’t read and believe the menu. 

Erb Thai is on Facebook and Twitter, and you can find their website at: 

Previously reviewed Thai Restaurants:
Angel's Thai Cafe - 1/7/10
Thai Express - 5/6/10
Thai Cuisine - 11/3/10 (closed)
Rak Thai Bistro - 12/22/10
Thai Chef - 4/13/11
Nu-Thai Bistro - 8/18/11
Erb Thai on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 3, 2012

CitySen, 85 Monroe Center NW - 2/13/12

We first visited this restaurant, located in the City Flats Hotel, last December and were totally taken with the setting, the service, and the food. Today was almost as good.

In contrast to their restaurant CityVu in Holland, CitySen is on the first floor with a street view, obstructed by the window trim. What you see are headless bodies strolling by. In summer, with the windows open, it’s probably much better.

The setting is classy and modern. Two booths are available at the windows (with the aforementioned obstructed views), and high top tables and other tables for four and two lead up to the bar. Other small rounds wrap around beyond the bar. The menu is small, specific, and interesting.
In our earlier visit, we started with shrimp and sausage gumbo, which was good but the shrimp was nowhere to be found being over-powered by the sausage. Today we began with the Veggie Roll (sticky rice, avocado, and spicy kimchee).

Followed by the Spider Roll (tempura soft shall crab, cucumber, spicy mayo in sushi maki roll), we have to conclude that sushi is not their specialty. The rice consistency was mushy and tasted of cream cheese. The seaweed wrap was very, very fishy tasting and overpowered everything in its wake.
The lobster spring rolls were another matter and very worth ordering, as are the risotto cakes (mushroom risotto cakes with ratatouille and parmesan crisp). All was fresh and crisp, with balanced flavors.
Both meat lovers and vegetarians have choices here and for the former, we can recommend the Cubano: black forest ham, crisp pork belly, gruyere, pickles, dijon, mayo, on a hoagie bun. And the tenderloin sliders that consist of three mini beef tenderloin sandwiches with steak butter will melt in your mouth. Add blue cheese if you wish.
Sauteed shrimp with brussels sprout leaves, pork belly and horseradish cream sauce was beautifully created and presented. 
All in all, this is a lovely dining experience. The service is consistently excellent with very knowledgeable and polite servers. In the summer, they offer an outdoor patio. It’s not a full dining experience, but if you stay away from the sushi you will enjoy the remaining small plates that are offered. If you’re a hotel guest, this is a wonderful on-site lounge/restaurant during your stay.
CitySen on Urbanspoon