This place on Beacon Street in Coolidge Corner (outbound side, a few doors down from the corner of Beacon and Church) doesn't get much mention around these parts, and those few postings about it are pretty uniformly along the lines of "It's fine for what it is" -- that is, a fusion-oriented Asian noodle place that's not geared towards a native population. So I admit it's not all that chowish, but sometimes you're of a mood, and so tonight Allstonian and I decided to go to Zenna Noodle Bar for dinner before the 9:50 showing of There Will Be Blood at the Coolidge. (Which, by the way, you should totally go see.)
Our starters were the shrimp and chicken summer rolls, served with a gloss on the standard Vietnamese sweet-and-sour dressing with minced cucumber and carrots and also a fine, thick and flavorful peanut sauce, and the chicken satay. The summer rolls were quite nice, densely packed and flavorful, but the satay was fairly marginal. Not bad, but just okay at best, with a surprisingly wimpy sauce.
I had the drunken noodles with beef: dry-fried wide rice noodles with vegetables and thin-sliced flank in a sauce that had just the right amount of a mellow chile kick. Allstonian had the pad thai, which I had a bit of mild buyer's remorse over not choosing myself. The trick to pad thai is balance, and this version didn't allow any element, such as the fish sauce or the peanuts, to drown out the others. As standard as it is, pad thai can be surprisingly hard to find done exactly right, and this was an unexpectedly nice version.
For dessert, we shared the mango sticky rice: a cheek of perfectly ripe sliced mango next to a cake of sticky rice in a coconut cream sauce. The interplay of the warm rice and cold mango was excellent, but I'm glad we just shared the one: way too filling to eat a full one by yourself.
Arriving around 7:30 on a Sunday without reservations, every table was full and there was a party of three ahead of us, but we were seated within about five minutes. It gave us enough time to note the flowering quince branches everywhere, as well as he rest of the quite pleasant decor.
Overall, I'm never going to consider this a favorite destination -- indeed, it may be years before we ever get around to going here again -- but as a nice, mellow, no-surprises treat on a relaxing date night after what had turned out to be a tiring, drama-filled week, Zenna Noodle Bar delivered exactly the kind of comfort food we had in mind, in a pleasant, calm environment. There's a place for meals like that.