June 2, 2009
San Diego City Beat
Sang Dao offers truly home-cooked dishes.
Sang Dao is a family affair. Two young brothers man the cash register
and take orders while their father buses dishes and their mother cooks,
passing fragrant dish after dish with practiced agility through a
square cutout in the restaurant wall. Eating there is like being invited
into their home for a meal, except you have to pay a little money—but
believe me, it won’t be very much and you’ll want to leave them more.
was with my own adventurous-eating family, the cherished key members
plus a visiting food-hunter from Yuma. As we sat down at a four-top
table, it became apparent that it would be too small for our purposes,
so we switched to a table for six that had more surface area for the
succession of dishes that were sure to come.
I’d already been in
once, for a lunch and a catch-up session with a friend, and thought what
we ate, including yum nuea, a beef salad, and stir-fried flat noodles,
were delicious, but I complained to my other food-soul mates that though
I’d told our server the first time around that I liked things spicy, I
don’t think he believed me, since our food arrived at a barely
tongue-tingling level. I found the hot kick I craved on the condiment
tray, which holds no less than five types of chili-based seasonings.
Kirk, often the knowing voice of experience at these meals,
said we needed to ask that the food be “Lao spicy” to get the real deal,
so he ordered a bunch of dishes, both on- and off-menu, that we all
agreed upon. I reordered the Choo Chee Shrimp that I remembered fondly
from my last meal, the tender seafood and red-pepper strips smothered in
an obviously homemade and complex red curry sauce enriched with coconut
milk and scented by lime leaves.
Sang Dao’s menu is primarily
made up of Thai dishes that may look familiar, but the family is from
Laos, so there are also a number of distinct regional favorites. Many
dishes can be ordered Thai or Lao style, the main difference being that
Lao dishes are often more sour and pungent than sweeter Thai versions.
a classic Northeastern Thai or Laotian meat salad, is the epitome of
the texture and taste contrasts that make me so fond of Southeast Asian
food. We asked for the special tripe and raw-beef version, mixed with
chili, lime, onions, cilantro, mint and (don’t cringe) beef bile, which
gives the dish a pleasant, but mild, bitterness. I loved its unique
flavor, but you might better enjoy a version of the salad made with
ground chicken that omits the bile.
The raw-beef larb is traditionally eaten with an organ meat soup called Tom Kroung Nai—as our young server put it,
like getting fries with a burger,” so we sticklers for authenticity
tested it and found it delicious. The spicy and flavorful broth helped
dial down the inherent funkiness of the offal.
Also delicious and
new was a version of papaya salad made exclusively with long beans, the
crunchy green stalks marinating in tangy dressing of dried shrimp,
garlic, tomato, chili and lime.
As with many Asian cuisines, rice
is a staple, but here you have the choice between steamed white rice or
a bamboo basket of steamed sticky rice, chewy and cooling when eaten
alongside fiery dishes.
Like any thoughtful family, Sang Dao wants
to send you home with snacks, so the front counter of the restaurant is
stacked with homemade treats, from cylindrical waffle cookies made with
coconut milk and black sesame seeds to Lao beef jerky and sweet-spicy
sausages, flavored with lemongrass and chili.
June 28, 2009
Welcome to mmm-yoso!!! -- Kirk's foodblog. Sometimes he lets Cathy post here, and today he's letting ed (from Yuma) post about a meal that you may have read about once or twice already.
On my last trip to San Diego, America's finest city, I fortunately arrived on the same day that Kirk, Howie, and Candice were planning a visit to Sang Dao, a Lao/Thai restaurant recently relocated on to El Cajon Blvd. I managed to finagle an invitation to join them there.
Like many good dining spots run by recent immigrants, it is located in a somewhat dicey neighborhood, between a gold buyer and a payday advance place:
I never expected to post about the meal, but it seems that I took
the most photos. Anyway, thought some readers might enjoy looking at
more pictures of the food. But be sure to read Kirk's account of the restaurant and Candice's too - to get expert opinions.
First, the raw beef salad
In this case, my picture is not especially good although it does show the wealth of greens that accompany the salad. I thought it tasted fine and liked the slight background bitter touch of bile. It was was not as beefy and, mercifully, not as overwhelmingly hot as the version at Sab-E-Lee (prepared Thai spicy for Kirk) which he and I had enjoyed around New Years.
Next we were served spicy offal soup (anybody remember the name?):
This was really good. The broth was deeply savory and lit up with chile spices. I kept shoveling various organ meats into my mouth, chewing them up, swallowing them, and going back for more. Even when I had no idea what I was eating:
One dish that I wanted in particular was whole fish -- which I guess is kind of an obsession of mine. I thought that the tilapia arrived looking very pretty: The taste matched the look of the fish. The first flavor notes that hit my palate were touches of sweetness, but the sweetness was nicely balanced with citrus flavors. The sauce did not overwhelm the flavor of the fish. I was also impressed by the quality of the frying. Though the skin was crisp, this fish remained moist from head to tail:
Next to arrive was the offal noodle soup: This soup was less enticing to any of us. The numerous slices of liver dominated the flavor of the bowl. I crave liverwurst sometimes, but this soup proved that I am not a true liver lover. The super soft noodles seemed OK, but added little. I would try a different noodle dish on a future visit.
My only other complaint about the meal - the sticky rice tasted a bit dried out.
Candice insisted we try a red curry shrimp dish that she had had before. I'm glad she did. As you can tell by the brownish color of the curry, the sauce had intense and complex flavors. It was so good I forgot to take a picture until almost the entire serving was gone:
I should probably add that I was the one who finished off the last of this wonderful curry.
The final item served was certainly one of the most impressive. It was a chopped long bean salad prepared with Lao spicing: In some ways, this resembles an extremely funky green papaya salad. Look at the color of the dressing. The pungent flavor of fish sauce (and/or fermented shrimp?) infused every bite of the salad. The diced chilies raised the spice level high. But even with all these other flavors, the intense green bean taste and green bean crunch stood out in every mouthful. A texture/taste treat. For me, this was an amazing and exciting dish. Nothing like it in Yuma!
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed more pictures. And I hope Kirk, or Howie, or Candice feel free to correct or add to this discussion. Compared to most Thai food, this seemed more in your face funky with more salty than sweet flavors. I, for one, appreciated the extensive menu (unlike Asia Cafe), which seems to invite return visits.
When the bill came, we were all amazed at the low cost for the all the food we'd eaten. No need to sell that wedding ring or borrow til payday to have dinner here.
Sang Dao Restaurant, 5421 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115, (619) 263-0914 :
San Diego, CA 92115 619-263-0914
Last dine in service is 30 minutes prior to closing.