Inside the 25th Street Market in Fargo, there are two restaurants: LeeLa Thai and Cafe 21. Having heard of LeeLa before, I headed there for a quiet dinner after finishing more apartment set-up. There will likely be more, but I had to take a break and eat.
LeeLa Thai was buzzing, with every table full. I noticed a card for Cafe 21 at the hostess stand and noticed it was in the same strip mall, so we headed there instead. They must be owned by the same people. If you know, leave a comment below.
The 25th Street Market is, if you haven’t been, a collection of businesses with storefronts in a closed-in entryway that is a welcome respite from the frigid wind. While it was only about 50 feet away, it was nice to walk to Cafe 21 from LeeLa in a heated walkway.
A waiter, looking smart in black, greeted us right away in the front of the stylish and dimly-lit restaurant. We were seated without delay, as it was only about 5:30 and there were only two other tables. But other diners trickled in.
Our waiter was very attentive and professional. I remarked that either he and the other waiter on duty have had previous experience or they were trained very well. The only thing that went wrong the entire meal was that there were dirty plates at the table right next to us. They weren’t noticed or cleared until we were almost done eating.
We started with some green tea and Gyoza, little fried chicken dumplings served with ponzu sauce.
They were crispy and satisfying, with the salty sauce combating the richness of the dumpling. And the fry on the Gyoza was well-done, without much oiliness.
We also got the edamame, which are soy beans fried and tossed in sea salt. I thought of them as possibly the perfect appetizer. Salty enough to warrant another drink, but not so much as to overwhelm your tongue. They came in a bamboo steam basket, which I thought was a nice touch.
Cafe 21 has a mix of seating along with about a dozen chairs around a sushi bar. I noticed that the rolls coming from the smiling sushi chef looked nice and tightly packed. He looked like he enjoyed and took pride in his work.
Coming with my entree of grilled pork tenderloin was a bowl of miso soup that was perfectly fine, but could’ve been hotter. The green tea also lacked in temperature.
The tenderloin ($12) was the highlight of the meal for me. It came skewered on sticks and with nice grill marks. The chef must’ve used some sort of charcoal grill because there was a nice smoky flavor to the thin strips of pork and some welcome crunchy, blackened parts. On the menu, it lists that the tenderloin comes served on rice noodles, but this time it came with the noodles and greens in a separate bowl. That was fine with me, as I used the lettuce pieces and noodles to make an improvised wrap and poured ponzu over the rest of the noodles for another, mini entree.
My dinner mate got the chicken pho ($8). The strips of chicken were grilled yet juicy. The broth was spicier than others I’ve had but not overly so. It was also spiced with more star anise and fennel, but it was all in proportion. It was among the best pho I’ve had.
Too stuffed for dessert, we finished up the green tea and went back to apartment organization. It was a great dinner, especially for a place open not even a month. They have service, food prep and presentation down already. I can’t wait for another opportunity to dine at Cafe 21 and I think you should too.