Effusive hostess Lily San, her husband, chef Eric Li and sushi chef Qianli Lin chose the Chinese character "sen" as the name for their new Asian restaurant. Not only does it make for a pretty logo, San said, but when pronounced, it's a ringer for the word "victory."
This kind of positive thinking shows up in the restaurant's stylish decor as well as in food that's carefully prepared, artfully plated, pleasingly priced.
A real showstopper is Lin's gingery, delectable grilled Chilean sea bass, presented in three porcelain spoons. A warm, pliant Indian pancake, served with curry sauce, makes for a comforting appetizer. Other winners: fiery tam yam soup with shrimp, and resonant hot and sour soup.
The sushi bar does well with ornate raw fish constructs, such as the golden dream roll made with tuna and avocado, topped with mango and roe. Lin's spicy girl roll (spicy salmon, yellowtail and tuna with avocado and tempura flakes) is colorful and incendiary.
Moist, smoky Thai-grilled chicken comes sliced over a rainbow of stir-fried vegetables, including red pepper, okra, red onion and jicama. The heat inherent in the nuanced Thai red curry with chicken is mellowed by coconut milk.
I find satisfaction in moo shu shrimp, presented with four pancakes and Hoisin sauce, as well as a spirited combo of eggplant with garlic sauce and chicken.
Warm chocolate cake, made by Li, is the equal or better of versions I've had at far costlier venues.
NOT QUITE ZEN
Sweetness undermines black rice in a fish appetizer. And the rice used in a lovely sushi-sashimi combo is too cold. I'm not a fan of Thai lettuce wraps made with overcooked, chewy strips of chicken. And Thai basil chicken proves dull.
A victory for hits over misses, panache over pricey.