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Serai - Malaysian Cuisine in Logan Square

Serai - Malaysian Cuisine in Logan Square
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  • Serai - Malaysian Cuisine in Logan Square

    Post #1 - December 21st, 2015, 2:01 pm
    Post #1 - December 21st, 2015, 2:01 pm Post #1 - December 21st, 2015, 2:01 pm
    Malaysian food is not the most common food in America, which is why I was so excited to see a place open in the city that is mainly Malaysian food. There were none in the city of Chicago - until now. The only places in the area are in the suburbs as we know, and it's only a few places. I am fairly familiar with Malaysian cuisine - I have a lot of friends in both Chicago and NYC who are from there originally, and my ex girlfriend was from PJ (Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur). I spent a few weeks over there as well being taken around by locals/my ex's family, eating so much I could barely walk, after my ex girlfriend and her friends made me home cooked Malaysian food all the time. Out of all the countries I've ever been, Malaysia had by far the best food - not even close. For the record, Serai in Malay means "Lemongrass." They do have other types of Asian food there too like cumin lamb which is from the Xinjiang region of China (western China - don't know where else I can get that dish in the city to be honest), a few Thai dishes (i.e. Pad Thai, Tom Yum soup), some Indonesian and Singaporean dishes, and some basic "Chinese" dishes.

    First - it turns out I was the first ever customer to the restaurant, but by myself. I wasn't able to try a lot that time because of it. If the owners are reading this, then they surely know who I am. Only about half of the space is open right now. The one which is open is a normal part. Well decorated and everything, but the other side with a bar is even better looking. The owners tell me it'll open probably sometime in January. So the other day, a few friends (mainly from Malaysia) and I went. There were a few other Malaysians in the group who had already actually been and gave their big seal of approval. All of the chefs here are from Penang, which is essentially the food capital of Malaysia.

    Something that really excited me was the fact that they're going to have a patio opening in summer with basically a mamak stall (never seen that in America anywhere) with people making satay and teh tarik (pull tea) infront of you. Plus they'll be showing soccer. That makes me extremely excited if they're going to do all that.

    I have to say - everything was good. Not a single bad thing I tried on the menu. Actually, I'd say that most things were in the "really good" category or close to it. The one dish I had the first day (Char Koay Teow) was much better now than before. Anyway, we had the Char Koay Teow, Mee Goreng, chicken satay, roti paratha, beef rendang, sambal shrimp, Pulut Hitam, flat noodles, and coconut pudding.

    * Chicken satay - Really good. You can tell the dipping sauce is completely home made and done right. The chicken has a nice lemongrass flavor on it and you can basically eat the dipping sauce with a spoon if you really wanted to.

    * Roti Paratha - This is generally one of my favorite Malaysian dishes. Unfortunately in the US at almost every Malaysian place I've been, the roti itself is either too thin or too crispy. Between all the places I've been in NYC and Chicago, this was by far the best and comparable to the stuff I've had in various cities in Malaysia and Singapore. Not crispy, not too thin and the curry was really good too. Maybe could have used more roti because the serving of curry was so big compared to it.

    * Char Koay Teow - Really good. Nice char flavor. Very well balanced and the portion size was good.
    * Mee Goreng - Might have been my least favorite dish, but still good. Not as good as others I've had in America elsewhere though. They need to improve this but I need to have it again to determine what exactly.
    * Beef Rendang - Beef cooked nicely and sauce was done right.
    * Sambal Shrimp - Really good. Great sambal on this.
    * Flat noodles - Good - not my favorite, but still good.
    * Pulut Hitam (black rice pudding w/coconut milk) - This was good. A little more watery than I'd hope for, but still good. They knew it too and are adjusting it.
    * Coconut Pudding - Very good. Served in a coconut. Not the pudding you'd think of for the typical American pudding. A bunch of coconut prepared so it's a little gelatinous. Very good.

    * Service - very good. Everyone there is really nice and down to earth. They don't try and sell you on anything you don't want to have and just tell it like it is. Very nice people and great. I like also that they very actively take feedback about the food if they know you know the cuisine(s). They asked us for pretty much every dish how we liked it and if there's anything they could do better in our eyes.

    All in all, this place is solid for Malaysian food in America. I've had the two Malaysian restaurants in the suburbs here as well as a handful in NYC, and feel that Serai is the best out of all of them I've had (counting the ones in NYC). Never had them in LA which may have better Malaysian restaurants - don't know personally. Not everything is perfect, but I thought it was really good overall for the standard of what you can get in America. Is it as good as what you can get in Malaysia? Of course not. That food is out of this world good, but this stuff especially for what you can get in America, I'd put as definitely above average. My Malaysian friends were excited after having it and are going to definitely return. When I asked to compare Serai versus Penang in Arlington Heights, they just got this weird look and said "Serai is way better. No contest."

    With all the new stuff going up in that area too, I think as long as they keep their quality and consistency up (I have a Malaysian friend who went a few days before who said they needed way more fire in the CKT, but the one I had did have a lot of it), keep improving upon what needs to be improved on, and run their business well, they'll be in business for awhile. I really hope so.


    Serai
    2169 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL
    (872) 206 8368
    http://www.seraichicago.com
  • Post #2 - December 21st, 2015, 2:07 pm
    Post #2 - December 21st, 2015, 2:07 pm Post #2 - December 21st, 2015, 2:07 pm
    Thanks for this entry! Just want to add two cents that we are also very impressed - just high quality, delicious food, and staff remarkably friendly, and while we are particularly excited that the Malaysian speciality is unique in town, we find ourselves constantly wishing for remotely acceptable Chinese on our side of the city, so we think the Chinese dishes on their menu are also a real benefit. We're putting Serai into our regular rotation, and hope other folks will support them!
  • Post #3 - December 21st, 2015, 4:50 pm
    Post #3 - December 21st, 2015, 4:50 pm Post #3 - December 21st, 2015, 4:50 pm
    Good to see a positive review since I live a couple blocks away. Definitely looking to make it there immediately after getting the whole Xmas shebang out of the way.
  • Post #4 - December 21st, 2015, 5:07 pm
    Post #4 - December 21st, 2015, 5:07 pm Post #4 - December 21st, 2015, 5:07 pm
    Very, very welcoming people. The Roti was much like what I used to get for breakfast in Penang (not the Arlington Heights one!). Agree that there could have been more roti as the curry was good and generous, but I could just eat that kind of thing all day. Good char on the noodles. The Char Koay Teow, a little too gelatinous but generally a good rendition. I thought the Rendang could have been a touch more tender. This place is very special though. They say they'll be bringing in some more night market style dishes, which is where Malaysian cuisine reaches its finest. Wish them luck. When both spaces are open, it's a very ambitious capacity size.
  • Post #5 - December 21st, 2015, 11:48 pm
    Post #5 - December 21st, 2015, 11:48 pm Post #5 - December 21st, 2015, 11:48 pm
    I have nothing but the utmost appreciation for Serai. You know how people respond instinctively, viscerally to hearing their names? That was the familiarity and naturalness I felt when I tried their laksa. It's not their most adventurous dish by far, but all the elements just come together so harmoniously that I have trouble describing the different parts. But I'll try - rich, warming soup with just the right level of spice; egg-y and al dente noodles; the funky fish balls; tofu puffs for the crunch; sprig of mint to tie it all together.

    Their kangkung with belacan (which looks similar to the ones from the suburb Penang) is a umami-rich, crunchy dish of goodness. I've had attempts at the same dish at many Hong Kong-style restaurants, and this was really at another level.

    I'm pleasantly surprised to see quite a few people echoing that Serai is on par with, if not better than, other Malaysian restaurants around the country. Gives me hope for Burmese and Cambodian openings in the future!
  • Post #6 - December 22nd, 2015, 1:57 am
    Post #6 - December 22nd, 2015, 1:57 am Post #6 - December 22nd, 2015, 1:57 am
    bernard wrote:I'm pleasantly surprised to see quite a few people echoing that Serai is on par with, if not better than, other Malaysian restaurants around the country. Gives me hope for Burmese and Cambodian openings in the future!


    For sure. This is one of those restaurants once I found out about it, I just wanted to succeed and so far, it's been good. Hope it continues. The owners told me the other day that they were busy with a wait (remember, only half of their place is open so far) from open until something like 4pm, then around 7 they were completely full again. They told me they didn't expect it to be like that so fast.

    As far as Burmese and Cambodian food goes, yes please! Cambodian food is so rare in the US to begin with - Chicago already has a Cambodian museum/memorial. Would be cool to get a restaurant!
  • Post #7 - December 22nd, 2015, 2:55 pm
    Post #7 - December 22nd, 2015, 2:55 pm Post #7 - December 22nd, 2015, 2:55 pm
    marothisu wrote:There were none in the city of Chicago - until now.

    Actually, Penang had a Malaysian restaurant at the corner of Wentworth and Cermak in Chinatown, until it burned down in 2008.
  • Post #8 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:03 pm
    Post #8 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:03 pm Post #8 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:03 pm
    It's cool that there is a Malaysian restaurant in the city, but looking over menu, the few authentic Malaysian items are swamped by a hodge podge of other cuisines. Still, definitely one to try out.

    Has anyone tried their sayur lemak or ayam or the gado gado?
  • Post #9 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:54 pm
    Post #9 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:54 pm Post #9 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:54 pm
    nr706 wrote:
    marothisu wrote:There were none in the city of Chicago - until now.

    Actually, Penang had a Malaysian restaurant at the corner of Wentworth and Cermak in Chinatown, until it burned down in 2008.


    Everybody knows that - it was also 7 years ago. What I meant was that it's been a long time since Chicago has had one.
  • Post #10 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:55 pm
    Post #10 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:55 pm Post #10 - December 22nd, 2015, 3:55 pm
    botd wrote:It's cool that there is a Malaysian restaurant in the city,but looking over menu, the few authentic Malaysian items are swamped by a hodge podge of other cuisines. Still, definitely one to try out.

    Has anyone tried their sayur lemak or ayam or the gado gado?


    There's a lot of Malaysian items on the menu and the menu at the actual restaurant might be smaller than what you see on their website. I think they mentioned that they were basically consolidating the menu to a smaller one. A lot of their main dishes, but not all, are from Malaysia or maybe Singapore or Indonesia (or all).

    I think if you look on the website, the Chinese stuff like "Orange Chicken" is takeout/delivery only. I did not see any of that on the in house menu. What they are doing, which might be a smart idea, is catering part of their takeout/delivery menu to some Americans who might not know Malaysian food, but still know "Chinese" food.
  • Post #11 - December 22nd, 2015, 5:14 pm
    Post #11 - December 22nd, 2015, 5:14 pm Post #11 - December 22nd, 2015, 5:14 pm
    marothisu wrote:
    nr706 wrote:
    marothisu wrote:There were none in the city of Chicago - until now.

    Actually, Penang had a Malaysian restaurant at the corner of Wentworth and Cermak in Chinatown, until it burned down in 2008.


    Everybody knows that - it was also 7 years ago. What I meant was that it's been a long time since Chicago has had one.

    I didn't.

    =R=
    I am not interested in how I would evaluate the Springbank in a blind tasting. Every spirit has its story, and I include it in my evaluation, just as I do with human beings. --Thad Vogler

    I'll be the tastiest pork cutlet bowl ever --Yuri Katsuki

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #12 - January 14th, 2016, 11:52 pm
    Post #12 - January 14th, 2016, 11:52 pm Post #12 - January 14th, 2016, 11:52 pm
    The fiancée and I finally made the 5-minute walk over to Serai tonight. I'd been itching to go since the opening a month ago and I'm already itching to go again after the gnarly dinner we had.

    Our server was very helpful in recommending which items he thinks best represent Malaysian cuisine and making it clear that they can modify most dishes to omit shellfish (thanks allergy god). We started with the chicken satay and roti pratha. The chicken was moist and deliciously char-grilled with probably the best peanut sauce I've tasted. But man that roti. That shit will haunt me. I've eaten a ton of curry in my life, but the curry served with it has got to be one of the best. Just a punch to the face of deep flavor. This is a must on any trip to Serai.

    For entrees we had the char koay teow and the beef rendang nasi lemak. The noodles were good as hell. Pungent and slightly spicy with a background sweetness and great wok hei. Our server recommended the beef rendang and said they keep running out because people like it so much. After one bite, it's pretty obvious why. Rendang is a spicy coconut curry packed with lemongrass flavor. I legit have no idea how they got so much lemongrass to shine through. Guess they gotta live up to the restaurant name.

    I cannot say how stoked I am to have a new neighborhood go-to. All of the employees seemed thrilled to be able to share their food with diners. Our check took a bit long to arrive, but when we left I realized it was because the other room had filled up too. Packed house on a Thursday night for a new restaurant. Can't say it isn't well-deserved with how great the food is.

    I might go back this weekend and continue my quest to work through the menu.
  • Post #13 - January 15th, 2016, 3:48 pm
    Post #13 - January 15th, 2016, 3:48 pm Post #13 - January 15th, 2016, 3:48 pm
    I cannot say how stoked I am to have a new neighborhood go-to. All of the employees seemed thrilled to be able to share their food with diners. Our check took a bit long to arrive, but when we left I realized it was because the other room had filled up too. Packed house on a Thursday night for a new restaurant. Can't say it isn't well-deserved with how great the food is.

    was the second room full of people waitiing for a table , as it was when we were there last week? or have they actually started serving food in the second room?? l thanks
  • Post #14 - January 15th, 2016, 3:53 pm
    Post #14 - January 15th, 2016, 3:53 pm Post #14 - January 15th, 2016, 3:53 pm
    justjoan wrote:was the second room full of people waitiing for a table , as it was when we were there last week? or have they actually started serving food in the second room?? l thanks


    They are now seating in both rooms!
  • Post #15 - January 15th, 2016, 4:18 pm
    Post #15 - January 15th, 2016, 4:18 pm Post #15 - January 15th, 2016, 4:18 pm
    Visited Serai last Friday with some friends and happy to report it's as good as everyone says. We ordered roti paratha, chicken satay, indonesian salad, curry laksa, char koay teow, beef rendang, sambal eggplant & nasi lemak ayam merah (fried chicken). Yes it was a lot of food but all were good. Standouts were the roti paratha (but wished there was more of the roti for the disproportionate amount of curry, we ended up keeping the curry for rice later) , eggplant, beef, char koay teow & ayam merah. We had a native speaker with us so I think it helped to speed things up out of the kitchen. Service was attentive but they were totally understaffed for the amount of diners they got. Both rooms were fully seated and there were people waiting by the door as well. I thought the appetizers were a little overpriced, particularly the Indonesian salad. But the entrees were spot on both in price & flavor. So glad there's finally a good Malaysian spot in town!
  • Post #16 - January 15th, 2016, 4:28 pm
    Post #16 - January 15th, 2016, 4:28 pm Post #16 - January 15th, 2016, 4:28 pm
    botd wrote:It's cool that there is a Malaysian restaurant in the city, but looking over menu, the few authentic Malaysian items are swamped by a hodge podge of other cuisines. Still, definitely one to try out.

    Has anyone tried their sayur lemak or ayam or the gado gado?


    This was my impression when I visited recently. There are plenty of Malaysian dishes on the menu, but they make up maybe a quarter of the entire menu (if that). We did order the gado gado (which I think is actually Indonesian) and unfortunately the table consensus was that it was the weakest dish we ordered. It was sweet with no depth and poorly constructed. The sambal eggplant (also Indonesian?) was also a disappointment with the tomato overpowering any depth from the chili paste.

    The rest of meal ranged from ok to solid, with no bites that were memorable for me. My favorite dish was the lamb rendang which was bright with fresh lemongrass. The hainan chicken and roti were nice as well, though I agree the serving of roti was too small for sharing.

    I'm relatively inexperienced with the cuisine so perhaps my expectations were misaligned, but I didn't feel like their food captured new ground that was missing from the Chicago culinary scene.
  • Post #17 - January 15th, 2016, 4:32 pm
    Post #17 - January 15th, 2016, 4:32 pm Post #17 - January 15th, 2016, 4:32 pm
    turkob wrote:I'm relatively inexperienced with the cuisine so perhaps my expectations were misaligned, but I didn't feel like their food captured new ground that was missing from the Chicago culinary scene.


    Could be. I'm friends with a lot of Malaysians, and I've spent time there as well, and this place is good. Every one of my Malaysian friends (as in people who are from Malaysia, not people who were born elsewhere but have ancestors from the country) who has been to this except for one, thinks it's very good for US standards. The one who didn't thought it ranged from OK to good, but she's very hard to please in general about any type of food.
  • Post #18 - January 20th, 2016, 12:09 pm
    Post #18 - January 20th, 2016, 12:09 pm Post #18 - January 20th, 2016, 12:09 pm
    I've enjoyed Serai twice now. I too, am a rookie with Malaysian. I've had it once at a New York restaurant. And I've cooked a few dishes from James Oseland's Cradle of Flavor with some success. And that's about it.

    Serai is the first taste of the Malay Peninsula that I've enjoyed in Chicago. Its certainly a huge addition to this part of town, my favorite SE Asian food I've had south of Addison (sorry/not sorry Andy's). It seems like its catching on too, with reports of long wait times, especially for take out. We've aimed early/late in my two trips and haven't had a problem being seated right away.

    Everything I've tried clocks in at an average of pretty good/ good– a few not bad dishes offset by more really good bites. There was some talk over on FB this morning about the flavors not popping to bold levels and while part of me wants to chalk this up to an inherent easy-going-ness of the cuisine, revisiting that post I linked above about Skyway in New York reminded me that there is more sour and funk to be had than what Serai is currently dishing out (in the set of dishes I've ordered at least). Some pickle-y stuff like achar would be nice. They are happy to provide condiments, the stand out being the gingery Hainanese chicken sauce and they also brought out a shrimp paste- based hot sauce last night.

    From least exciting (to me) to most:

    I'm no Laksa expert (laikom?) but this rendition seems to be what's known as curry laksa. The rich, coconut milk fortified curry broth a'int bad, but it tasted a little generic to me. More fishiness would have elevated it. And suffering like so many noodle soups, the already soft noodles sat there and absorbed the broth, logging them into mushiness and taking up too much real estate.

    Nasi Goreng, shrimp paste fried rice was pretty pedestrian, complete with peas and carrot medley. Not funky enough. I dug the deep fried egg though.

    Char Koay Teow, the pan fried rice noodles with seafood seems to be a crowd pleaser. I'm just not wowed by stir fried noodle dishes ever. This certainly has good breath of the wok and its Chinese sweet soy character adds a nice contrast to the more spice-heavy dishes. I like my noodles chewier or crispier though.

    The Roti pratha is a tasty little bite, though the proportions are a bit off. The portion of roti, which is haphazardly lumped on the plate, is about half as much as you need to scoop up the curry. Good flavors though, the mild curry has a deep chicken flavor and the flatbread is super rich with a note of coconut.

    Hainanese chicken rice seems to be one of those elementally simple dishes that has a wide margin of error. But, again, I'm no expert here and this version is probably the best I've had. The schmaltzy rice is awesome, maybe the best part. And the sauce, mentioned earlier is super bright and great dabbed on just about everything. The chicken is just-cooked and I can get down with the under-rated soft chew of poached chicken skin.

    The Lamb rendang is most notable to me for the Bootsie Collins/ Bernie Worrell funk interplay of lamb + fish sauce, a flavor combo I can't recall ever enjoying (though an ancient Roman goat and home made fish sauce dish a buddy and I made once comes to mind). Good stuff, I love the reduced richness of rendang.

    Echoing Bernard's praise above, the sleeper dish and favorite of mine was the Kang kung belacan, sauteed water spinach served with a deeply funky belacan shrimp paste (cue Eddie Hazel guitar solo). This was the most pungent thing I ate here on either visit. A warning though, last night our server said it was seasonal and not currently available. Not sure which season changed between the 2nd and 3rd weeks of January, but I guess its an availability issue.

    Serai, count me a fan!
  • Post #19 - January 20th, 2016, 12:48 pm
    Post #19 - January 20th, 2016, 12:48 pm Post #19 - January 20th, 2016, 12:48 pm
    The sauteed water spinach was the one dish they were out of (at like 6:30 PM!) the night I went.

    I was with turkob and agree that everything seemed fine. A few flavors popped, but much of it was just kinda there. This is an 8 minute walk from my house. I might go back to try it again (and get the water spinach), but nothing I sampled is calling to me.
  • Post #20 - January 20th, 2016, 7:56 pm
    Post #20 - January 20th, 2016, 7:56 pm Post #20 - January 20th, 2016, 7:56 pm
    For a different perspective, I really enjoyed my meal at Serai last night. I don't proclaim to be any kind of an expert on Malaysian food, and exactly how funky and spicy it should be, but for me personally, funk and chile pepper spice don't determine my level of enjoyment. And what I found with Serai last night was a fantastic balance of flavors, and no unnecessary sweetness, which is something I typically encounter at Southeast Asian restaurants abandoning principle to serve what they believe farang desire.

    As for the food, picking a favorite item is going to be rough for me. The Hainanese Chicken was among the best versions I've ever tasted. You had a moist, perfectly poached and delicious chicken and I loved the slightly spicy, sweet dipping sauce. And the chicken fat rice was also very impressive. If I were making a list of the best chicken dishes in Chicago, this would absolutely belong on that list.

    My second favorite dish was the Char Koay Teow, thick noodles stir fried with seafood. The seafood was cooked perfectly, and the noodles had a lovely char. Nope, nothing fancy here. Just pure comfort. That Jefe didn't love them and I did probably speaks more to the fact that two people can try the very same dish and have wildly differing opinions -- welcome to LTHForum.

    I was also a big fan of the Roti Pratha, roti with curry, chicken and potatoes. I thought the roti was beautifully flaky and light, the curry wonderfully fragrant with spices and delicious. My only complaint was that the dish comes with so little roti and they won't give you more unless you get a second order of the dish. Oh well.

    And I was a big fan of the Lamb Rendang. The sauce was delicious, the lamb tender. I've had rendang before and I thought this was one of the more respectable versions I've tasted.

    Items I enjoyed but didn't love included the Chicken Satay (perfectly fine, but I thought the sauce needed a bit more zip), Nasi Goreng (fine, tasty, but I've had better, including at De Quay, though I realize there may be differences between an Indonesian and Malaysian version) and Curry Laksa (also perfectly fine, but I was just hoping it packed a bit more flavor punch).

    We also had a couple of desserts, and the one must order is the coconut filled with what I could best describe as a loose coconut jelly. The natural coconut flavor is fantastic and there are some lovely coconut shards for the taking inside the coconut (assuming you're a coconut lover like we were). There was another dessert I can't remember too well at the moment. Beans of some sort? I don't know . . . wasn't too sweet, though I enjoyed it quite a bit. But I may have been alone on this one. I wasn't on the coconut dessert.

    In any event, I thought the food was terrific, with many dishes that I simply cannot find elsewhere. I look forward to having more opportunities to experience Malaysian cooking, be it overseas or here. But in the meantime, I'll absolutely be returning to Serai.

    We also had a delicious soup, which I believe was the Soto Madura, but I won't bet my life on it.
    I find the pastrami to be the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats. (Seinfeld)

    Twitter: brbinchicago
  • Post #21 - January 23rd, 2016, 6:39 pm
    Post #21 - January 23rd, 2016, 6:39 pm Post #21 - January 23rd, 2016, 6:39 pm
    Others have summed up many of the main dishes well, so I won't repeat that here. Overall an excellent experience, with many new flavors, even in vaguely familiar dishes.

    Of course they were out of the water spinach/morning glory last night but green beans substituted well, and the sauce is the key. The rendang beef was outstanding, as was both the roti pratha (they really need more bread on that plate!) and the seafood seaweed soup. Will be returning to take others and to check out more of the flavorful dishes, including more seafood, as some in our party are not seafood eaters (to their detriment). Also, we had no room for the coconut dessert, so we have to go back for that.

    It was also encouraging to see a wide variety of Asian customers from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, China and probably elsewhere enjoying dinner along with those ordering the less adventurous food. This place deserves support.
  • Post #22 - January 24th, 2016, 9:47 am
    Post #22 - January 24th, 2016, 9:47 am Post #22 - January 24th, 2016, 9:47 am
    I'm encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive posts on Serai. Love the cuisine and the family running the place. But my early lunch last week showed inconsistency at best.

    Hainanese chicken/ khao man gai is one of my favorite foods, any cuisine. So I was excited to order the "national dish of Singapore" from a Malasian place. Then, I was disappointed with what seemed to be a thrown together rendition. It might have been 1/2 a chicken as the menu stated, but unfortunately and definitely not fully the left or the right half. The bird's temperature varied greatly from piping hot to frigid on the same plate. Never a good sign. The schmaltz rice was dry and cold. No broth on the side, the consommé being necessary and correct in my view. The hot sauce was good, but the portion tiny. Flavor of the bird was excellent, looking past the other issues. I'll probably give them another shot given what I see here and my love of this dish.

    My kid's won ton dish - dumplings in broth served next to a large plate of egg noodles swimming in sweet soy- was a mess. The dumpling wrappers had all disintegrated into the broth by the time they reached the table.

    Yeah, the food appeared to reflect the hasty reheating of leftovers. Maybe that wasn't it, but I'd be more concerned about the kitchen if it weren't that.

    My bad meal feels like an extreme outlier based on what I've read. I'll give them some time and another go of it. As always with a new spot, your mileage may vary. The owner/host is a very nice guy. I'm rooting for them despite my clunker of a lunch.

    PS: reading the post above reminds me that the seaweed seafood soup was terrific.
  • Post #23 - January 26th, 2016, 5:30 am
    Post #23 - January 26th, 2016, 5:30 am Post #23 - January 26th, 2016, 5:30 am
    A lot (most?) of dishes at Serai do not come close to passing the “authentic” test by comparison to what I ate throughout Malaysia. Any dish which would typically be spicy lacked the appropriate chili heat, and other dishes lacked one or more of the ingredients one would have expected. A side of (an actually spicy) sambal, and a few calamansi would have really taken the food to the next level. When asked, the owner was first to admit that the menu and some dishes are tamed down for the american customers, and based on the popularity of the place, and the very positive yelp reviews I’m sad to say he’s perhaps making the right decision...

    That being said, the dishes that hit the right notes really hit, and the overall quality of ingredients and kitchen talent is very high. In spite of the Americanizations, and the bizarre mashup of a menu, I hope to return many times.

    Without doing a side by side it’s hard to tell, but from memory this Hainanese Chicken seemed spot on with the best ones I had in Singapore; the places with lines down the block. The only problem, as noted above, it was missing the broth.

    Image

    The roti paratha really hit the spot. The roti itself has a nice chew, depth of flavor and char, and the curry is packed with flavor. As mentioned a couple times, yes, they skimp on the roti, and through an awkward exchange they would not allow us to order an extra piece even when I offered to buy it. We ended up getting a 2nd order of the dish to accommodate our group, but that still didn’t solve the ratio problem so there was a lot of leftover curry and no spoons. We didn't hesitate to pass the bowl around drinking the remainder, but still...

    Image

    I thought the nasi goreng (shrimp paste fried rice) was good, nicely fried and decent flavor with lots of whole shrimp, but I wish it had more shrimp paste, and would have rather had any vegetable in there other than the peas and carrots they use.

    Image

    I’ll share in singing the praises for the lamb rendang. It’s not exactly a visually attractive dish, then it’s not supposed to look pretty. Though not nearly spicy enough it has a great depth of flavor.

    Image

    I won’t go into too much detail about the bad dishes, but I agree with Turkob that the Gado Gado was bland and sweet, and the sambal eggplant was pretty lame with next to no spice and... what tasted like tomato, nor was it like any sambal I had in Malaysia.

    Image

    Image

    Jefe, they are not serving the Penang Assam Laksa as you possibly hoped for. Because of the talent in the kitchen, they could make a killer version if they were brave enough to offer it to us westerners. It is a real shame (since the chef is from Penang) that they don’t feel they can make the island’s most famous dish for fear that it has too strong flavors for the Logan Square locals. As for the curry laksa itself, it could have perhaps been redeemed with a healthy side of shrimp paste, a few calamansi, and a dose of something spicy.

    Service (at least coming from the owner) was cold and rude at times, and awkward at other times. For example when they accidentally brought out a dish we didn't order, he was totally argumentative - "No, you ordered it, your server wrote it down... It's good, you'll like it!" We ate both of the dishes, so of course both were on the bill in the end. We didn't complain further but he definitely rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, they are new and working out some service kinks, but there is no excuse for not at least acknowledging the mistake. Prior to our awkward exchanges I tried testing the waters with the owner and he was not receptive to the idea of organizing a group meal involving some more authentic versions of the dishes. On a second visit I tried ordering the shrimp paste fried rice with extra shrimp paste. The server said, okay no problem, but it came out exactly the same as before.

    On paper it sounds like I have quite a few complaints, but overall I really look forward to returning to hone my ordering.
    Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

    -Mark Twain
  • Post #24 - January 27th, 2016, 5:53 pm
    Post #24 - January 27th, 2016, 5:53 pm Post #24 - January 27th, 2016, 5:53 pm
    laikom wrote:Jefe, they are not serving the Penang Assam Laksa as you possibly hoped for. Because of the talent in the kitchen, they could make a killer version if they were brave enough to offer it to us westerners. It is a real shame (since the chef is from Penang) that they don’t feel they can make the island’s most famous dish for fear that it has too strong flavors for the Logan Square locals.


    I really wish they'd do that. I fell in love with the soup when I was in Malaysia last. It is not the easiest flavors for a normal westerner, but it's good. I have only found it one or two places in the US so far. Most places just do the curry laksa. It is a total shame - hoping that Serai will sometime have it.
  • Post #25 - January 27th, 2016, 6:25 pm
    Post #25 - January 27th, 2016, 6:25 pm Post #25 - January 27th, 2016, 6:25 pm
    marothisu wrote:
    laikom wrote:Jefe, they are not serving the Penang Assam Laksa as you possibly hoped for. Because of the talent in the kitchen, they could make a killer version if they were brave enough to offer it to us westerners. It is a real shame (since the chef is from Penang) that they don’t feel they can make the island’s most famous dish for fear that it has too strong flavors for the Logan Square locals.


    I really wish they'd do that. I fell in love with the soup when I was in Malaysia last. It is not the easiest flavors for a normal westerner, but it's good. I have only found it one or two places in the US so far. Most places just do the curry laksa. It is a total shame - hoping that Serai will sometime have it.


    They serve Asam Laksa at "Penang" in Arlington Heights. While I'm comparing the 2 restaurants, Penang has a big leg up. Despite being in the burbs Penang makes excellent preparations of the spicy, funky, authentic stuff. If you live in the city it's worth the trip to the burbs, or if you live out there, you're lucky to have it nearby. Hopefully this new restaurant in the city will also encourage people to become more interested in making it out to Penang. I sure wish I could make it out there more often.
    Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

    -Mark Twain
  • Post #26 - January 27th, 2016, 6:39 pm
    Post #26 - January 27th, 2016, 6:39 pm Post #26 - January 27th, 2016, 6:39 pm
    laikom wrote:
    marothisu wrote:
    laikom wrote:Jefe, they are not serving the Penang Assam Laksa as you possibly hoped for. Because of the talent in the kitchen, they could make a killer version if they were brave enough to offer it to us westerners. It is a real shame (since the chef is from Penang) that they don’t feel they can make the island’s most famous dish for fear that it has too strong flavors for the Logan Square locals.


    I really wish they'd do that. I fell in love with the soup when I was in Malaysia last. It is not the easiest flavors for a normal westerner, but it's good. I have only found it one or two places in the US so far. Most places just do the curry laksa. It is a total shame - hoping that Serai will sometime have it.


    They serve Asam Laksa at "Penang" in Arlington Heights. While I'm comparing the 2 restaurants, Penang has a big leg up. Despite being in the burbs Penang makes excellent preparations of the spicy, funky, authentic stuff. If you live in the city it's worth the trip to the burbs, or if you live out there, you're lucky to have it nearby. Hopefully this new restaurant in the city will also encourage people to become more interested in making it out to Penang. I sure wish I could make it out there more often.


    Interesting, never knew that. I'll check it out sometime then since it's been a few years since I've been there. As someone with a lot of friends from Malaysia living in Chicago, we had this discussion about Serai. When I asked them Serai versus the others, they looked at me funny and said "Serai, by far." They have all thought that Penang is mediocre and Serai much better.

    However, I've heard some consistency issues and that is a big aspect of any restaurant. My one friend from Malaysia said her CKT didn't have enough char flavor, but when I went the last time with my friends it definitely did. I'm hoping they can learn to keep things consistent.

    I would agree with others though that they need to bring out some of the funky flavors in a few dishes more. Malaysian food is one of the best in the world and more people should know about it. It's too under-represented in the US right now.

    In any case, Mike Sula of the CR has reviewed the restuarant:
    http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/se ... d=21019873
  • Post #27 - January 28th, 2016, 1:45 pm
    Post #27 - January 28th, 2016, 1:45 pm Post #27 - January 28th, 2016, 1:45 pm
    marothisu wrote:In any case, Mike Sula of the CR has reviewed the restuarant:
    http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/se ... d=21019873


    Sula's review reminded me that the ramen noodles in the curry laksa really didn't make any sense. If it was difficult for them to find the bee hoon noodles there are closer approximations around than ramen. Or am I wrong? Has anyone seen ramen noodles used in laksa in SE Asia anywhere? Either way, it seemed very wrong to me.
    Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

    -Mark Twain
  • Post #28 - January 31st, 2016, 10:38 pm
    Post #28 - January 31st, 2016, 10:38 pm Post #28 - January 31st, 2016, 10:38 pm
    Feel free to play the wrestling villain theme music of your choice while reading this post, but you could throw out this place's entire Malaysian menu (and the question of whether or not it's authentic/"funky" enough for the Food Message Board Seal of Approval) and it would still have a very special place in my heart for being eeeeeeasily the best Chinese takeout option in Logan Square.

    That's right, I'm eating very mildly spicy three chili chicken from Serai right now and loving every bite of it! It's way better than Cheng's Chopsticks and that's more than I can say for 90% of people and things in my life! I can't wait to see if Rihanna does a guest spot with Coldplay at the Super Bowl!! Ha! Ha! Ha!!!!!

    Serai's American Chinese menu...
    Image
  • Post #29 - February 2nd, 2016, 10:28 am
    Post #29 - February 2nd, 2016, 10:28 am Post #29 - February 2nd, 2016, 10:28 am
    laikom wrote:
    marothisu wrote:In any case, Mike Sula of the CR has reviewed the restuarant:
    http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/se ... d=21019873


    Sula's review reminded me that the ramen noodles in the curry laksa really didn't make any sense. If it was difficult for them to find the bee hoon noodles there are closer approximations around than ramen. Or am I wrong? Has anyone seen ramen noodles used in laksa in SE Asia anywhere? Either way, it seemed very wrong to me.


    I actually don't think this is that uncommon. When I was in Chiang Mai at a Muslim restaurant they served what was essentially laksa with wheat noodles. In general I think the Muslim populations in SE Asia lean toward wheat everything even if rice products are the culinary staple of the country. Also I recall eating turmeric colored wheat noodles in a Burmese laksa, but I believe they also offered rice noodles.
  • Post #30 - April 4th, 2016, 10:15 am
    Post #30 - April 4th, 2016, 10:15 am Post #30 - April 4th, 2016, 10:15 am
    Hit up Serai on Saturday (and maybe sat next to Ronnie Suburban?). The roti was delicious as always, though I would love a second piece of it to match the curry amount. I finally got to try the Hainanese chicken and it was just excellent. I love poached chicken skin and this dish delivers on that front. The dipping sauce was so bright and the perfect balance for the savory chicken and fatty rice. Definitely my go-to order going forward.

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