Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quick Visits To Sab-E-Lee, Santee (And A Donut @ Mary's)

A belated Merry Christmas! Sorry I've never been great at providing timely posts.

I guess you can say A Radiused Corner is never at cutting edge.. (har har). Like how I've been meaning to check out Sab-E-Lee (1) forever now after reading Kirk of mmm-yoso's posts (here, here, here and most recently here) but without any success.

Craving Thai Food for me may not come as frequently as other cuisines but when it comes it is a fierce force to be reckoned with. And so when I was primed for some Sab-E-Lee action and eager to finally try out some of the Isan (Issan, Isaan, E-Saan?) dishes I've been reading for so long, I decided to head out to the newer Santee location, often referred to as Sab-E-Lee 2. (Posts by Kirk here and here, and Cathy's here.) SBL-2 full menu here.

I remember Kirk mentioning to me in the past that the two restaurants while both excellent were different with distinctive characters. As far as I know the menu at the original Linda Vista location is a more pure Isan creation while the sister location in Santee is a bit more varied while still offering signature Isan dishes that SBL had grown to become known for. Please check out the many great posts linked earlier for more informative background on Sab-E-Lee and Isan cuisine on mmm-yoso.

The Sab-E-Lee Sausage was a great starter listed under the E-Saan entrees section ($7.95, described as Esaan Sausage - ground pork, rice, and curry paste). I've had Thai Sausage at least one other time a while back and both were great with the distinctive sourness that to me pleasantly complements the pork's fat. From what I understand the cured meat can be eaten without cooking but it was served quickly fried in oil and sliced. What sets SBL's apart was the accompanied garnishes. Cut cubes of fresh ginger, peanuts, chili peppers. When eaten all together while also nibbling on some fresh cabbage, it made the already enjoyable experience of consuming cured meat for me (ha) even more pleasurable.

I thought the Larb Duck ($8.95) was really fantastic.

A spicy chopped duck meat salad with a fairly strong but rounded citrus tartness combined with a little sweet/savory not to mention a whole party of flavors from mint leaves to the red onions and the rice powder. I chose spiciness level Seven which luckily turned out right at the limit of my hot spice sweet spot without passing it (most places I order a Nine for the same level of heat).

And I know not exactly the most iconic SBL dish to represent on my first post but of course I had to order the Garlic Rice ($3) after reading about it.. :)

With crispy fried garlic chips and onions, a total no brainer. I'm kinda glad nobody was around at the 10:30AM opening time I was there cause I may have devoured it embarrassingly a bit too quick.

My next visit was only a couple days after. Funny how when the scenery shifts on the 52 Fwy to large hills and power lines, time starts to feel like it's slowing down. But keeping a sharp eye on the clock it actually took me exactly 15-mins from starting my car at home in North Park-ish town to entering the doors of Sab-E-Lee-2 (albeit I live close to a freeway on-ramp). I know it takes me roughly the same to reach any lunch spot in Kearny Mesa and sometimes longer at La Jolla when hunting for parking.

A drive up the 15-North and 52-East. Exit Mission Gorge Road, make a left after off-ramp, pass Mary's Donuts (a post by Alice Q here) and look for the SBL sign to your right.

My second visit I tried to order a few dishes that I at least didn't remember reading about. Funny that I had the joy of previewing the Kra-Thong Tong ($7.95) after the super nice Koby had given me some reading material while I waited for my meal. :)

When it arrived I thought if it tastes half as good as it looked I'd be really happy. Pretty!

Little fried (rice) pastry cups filled with curry flavored ground meats (chicken and shrimp) and vegetables. The cucumber salad sweetened with a syrup made with coconut sugar was kindly explained and to be eaten with.

Popped these babies fairly quickly as well and had no trouble finishing the appetizer which I'm sure was meant to be shared. But anyway, again the nice flavors of fresh ingredients were the common thread.

I heard good things about the Tom Kah Gai, I think from a comment that Carol had made so wanted to try it. It's nice that you can choose a small or large bowl. Shown is the small ($4.50).

The version here is very mildly sweet and I could really taste the brightness of all the fresh herbs and ingredients. I had ordered this also at level Seven but the coconut milk must've really dampened the heat.

Lots of lemon grass and the floral flavors of (my newly learned ingredient that I'm eager to share, haha) Galangal was really nice. Had the texture of ginger but was much more floral in flavor and aroma. Very good and now I really look forward to any one of their curries.

By this time I was fairly stuffed and the Nahm Tok ($7.95) with grilled pork had arrived.

My humble description is that it is similar to the Larb I had but less citrusy and with more pronounced flavors of the chili peppers and rice powder. Was really good but if I had the choice I think I prefer to try another Larb dish in the future.

The steamed Sticky Rice ($2.25) I was familiar with the dessert with fresh mango and sweetened condensed milk but never had it with savory entrees. Quite glutinous where it reminds me of Japanese mochigome but these were a longer grain. I packed most of it and the Nahm Tok to-go and I was again kindly provided with advice of reheating the rice at home.

I'm totally ready next for a fish dish as well as one of their curries which I wanted to include here but I forgot SBL-2 was closed today for the holidays (reopening tomorrow, Sunday). I'll just save those for another post which I'm sure I won't be having any shortage of in the near future. :)

Fyi, both SBL-1 and 2 opens at 10:30AM and remains open into dinner which is great because I like dining during off peak hours whenever possible. I guess I don't have a reason now to not visit the Linda Vista location either (except on a Monday. SBL-2 is open seven days a week for the time being).

Happy eating and hope you all are having a great post holiday weekend. :)

Sab-E-Lee (Santee), 9159 Mission Gorge Road, Santee, CA 92071

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lunching @ Izakaya Sakura - The Sakuramen And Few Other Dishes..

Another episode of sharing my lunches at Izakaya Sakura. I hope people aren't getting tired of these. I explained in the past that I'm simply one of many regulars here and it just so happens that I have a hobby of blogging about what I've eaten. That and I've been also trying to complete their entire lunch menu for fun. Ok, that part might sound weird to some.... ;)

So anyway I've heard Sakura was experimenting with a Tonkotsu based ramen for some time now and it was supposedly offered on a trial basis during dinner while they ironed out the recipe. It's now available for lunch. :)

Sakura's original ramen cleverly named the "Sakuramen,"($8.50).

While my experience with were all pleasant, its personality has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So you can say the recipe tweaks continues on but I didn't think the results would be so drastic.

My first bowl was Dr. Jekyll, a made from scratch delicate tonkotsu broth that I guess I'd categorize as "assari Tonkotsu" or light tonkotsu. Toppings were also flavored on the light side which I thought maybe caters to their older and female majority of patrons (that at least I observe of the place).

The thick cut roast pork was impressively tender, the yolk of the hanjuku tamago a nice glossy medium, the stir-fried bean sprouts still with a nice par crunch with a light kick of fine ground pepper. The noodles not surprising were off the shelf (wavy chijire which I believe is usually not associated with tonkotsu ramen but is efficiently shared with their Hiyashi Chuuka cold noodles). With a name like Sakuramen, you can tell they are not really trying to authentically replicate a bowl of a particular region but instead create something unique to them that their patrons would hopefully enjoy. I was asked afterward what I thought and I was quite honest with. Overall the flavors were on the quiet side for me personally but everything seemed consistent in a good way. Younger patrons may want something flavored a little stronger though..(?) I'd still happily slurp up this version any day of the week.

So a month or so had passed and my second experience turned out a polar opposite beast. Mr. Hyde or Mr. Hulk. This was not the soft spoken doctor from the previous.(!)

A completely opaque extremely dense soup that was collagen central.. A can of this on the market shelf would've been labeled "Cream of Pork Bone." The bold personality of the soup was very un-Sakura like if I may say so, but not in a bad way. While I continued to slurp I kept thinking to myself I was going to get tired of the rich broth anytime soon now but I somehow didn't. It's rich but not salty. One glitch though is that the noodles now seem underwhelmed in the heavy weight boxer of a soup.

So to reconfirm my experience I had to try it yet again.. ;) This time a tad less rich than the previous but still quite up there in the kotteri scale. The stir-fried sprouts now with the addition of garlic chips.

An onigiri rice ball probably would be a great complement like how one is served with their soba entrees. While I hate sounding like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I personally wouldn't mind the soup a little less rich if the noodles were to remain the same. Whether or not it will be your cup of tea is hard to say but what I can safely say is that at least for these last experiences went there is no other tonkotsu that comes close to Sakuramen in San Diego and to have this option is nice and a refreshing change. :)

A few other meals quickly that I don't think will need too much explaining..
I noticed a few price increases of their sides which is concerning but the Tori no Karaage (Chicken Karaage, $3.50) I think is still a great deal. Hopefully yours will be shaped like little grenades like it was this day as I feel it always should. I like the center to be concentrated with scorching hot chicken juice, haha. Because otherwise I might as well be eating chicken strips which is not the same.

I remember when Sakura's karaage used to be served mizore style (already bathing in the tsuyu with grated daikon radish). Sometime ago they switched to the tsuyu on the side with an addition of the more modern (but now almost standard) dollop of Japanese mayo with shichimi pepper.

I've had it once with their standard curry ($8.50). Mmm a no brainer match. Surprised it's not on the menu this way but we all can't be a Coco Ichibanya can we? :)

I've described Sakura's mild but rich curry many times before but I'm always impressed at how well it goes with the Miso Soup. The sweet Fukushinzuke pickles are an absolute must for me (I often ask for extra) and here it is also served with Rakkyo (sweet pickled scallion bulbs?). Something a bit rare these days.

To finish the karaage thread, it's also available as a Teishoku lunch set ($8.50).

This day the karaage was shaped more "strippy" than usual. It probably fries up quicker this way and while it was still decently moist (the fact that the chicken is the darker thigh portion with skin always helps) I missed the tension of the extreme care I have to take of not burning my mouth with the chicken mini-grenades.

The Mix Tempura Set ($9). Two large shrimps, a butterflied aji or kisu, and a variety of vegetables (eggplant, green bean, sweet potato, onion, if I remember correctly).

The batter was a medium density with nice perforated branches (the term of the technique used is「花を咲かせる」or "to blossom flowers"). Fried well if not a bit on the thick side but with a nice aroma of sesame oil.

Maybe a good time to slide in a visual refreshment here.. :) The Hiyayakko cold tofu appetizer is still a favorite of mine ($2.50).

A momen medium-firm tofu topped with scallions, sliced raw okra and dried bonito flakes. The okra is a nice touch.

And what would a Japanese eatery be without your Katsu-don. This one is chicken ($9) though visually almost indistinguishable to the pork, he he.

Consistent to the Ten-don and Oyako-don that I've had, a nice robust tsuyu broth to make me crave that Japonica variety of rice. Something that I really enjoy but also something I've learned to not take for granted (such as at Kayaba which borderlines flavorless).

I need to keep reminding myself to ask for the eggs half cooked in the future though.

The Nasu no Karee or Curry with Eggplant ($9).

I'd like to say the eggplant is roasted but I'm sure it's quickly fried which in the world of Japanese Curry is never a bad thing. I actually enjoyed this a lot.

And again, the paring with the miso soup may sound strange but my how well it goes together. :)

I thought I depleted my token used to be offered dishes but I managed to find one more. The Kani Cream Korokke (Crab Cream Croquette).

You still occasionally find a mini version in the Limited Bento Lunches. The crab flavor is very subtle in the hot bechamel based filling so some may be disappointed but it's a pretty typical rendition. Sort of a classic mainstay in Japanese households and I can see myself order it if it were still offered.

The last is a recent new addition to the lunch menu. Mushi-dori no Teishoku (for short but actually - Steamed Chicken with Sliced Jalepeno and Onions, $8.50). This actually is an update from a previous steamed chicken dish now with a generous addition of sliced onions and a nice heat from Jalapenos.

The chicken is again a tender thigh portion with skin. The toppings were lightly steamed as well and all with the ponzu based sauce a great non-fried healthier addition to the menu I thought.

So this concludes yet another nerd-a-thon episode.. I hope you all enjoyed it. The next one will probably be coming sooner than later while I continue to finish off stashes of older photos before the year ends. Hope you all are having a good week, and of course good lunches! :)

Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111

Links to past lunches I've had at Sakura:

Uni to Ikura no Zousui, Kimchi Nabe, Saba Misoni (side), Una-don, Unatororo-don, Oyako-don, Sukiyaki-don, Ten-don, Ebi Shrimp Fry, Ten Zaru Soba, Ten Soba (cold), Natto, Ebi Fry Curry
Ginger Pork
Unagi-don (+tororo)
Buri Daikon, Saba no Shioyaki (teishoku), Yasai Itame, Jyaga Tamago, Tensoba, & Sanma no Shioyaki, Mekabu Natto Yamaimo Iri, Saba Misoni, Tonjiru sides
Nagasaki Sara Udon, Nagasaki Champon, Chicken Teriyaki, Yakisoba (w/ egg), & Roll-Kyabetsu, Sanma Nitsuke, Guratan Korokke, Potato Salad sides
Kaki (Oyster) Fry, Chicken Katsu Curry, Chicken Katsu, Plain Omurice, Hayashi Omurice
Uni-don, Chirashi (1 and 2), Ikura-don, Negi Maguro Natto-don, Spicy Nakaochi-don, Tekka-don (+w/tororo)
Liver Nira, Ginger Pork, Garlic Chicken, Saba Amazu Ankake, Hata no Kinoko Ankake, Buri Teri, Steamed Chicken w/ Ponzu, and Tofu Dango, Aji Fry, Saba Shioyaki, Buta Kakuni sides
Curry Udon
Hiyashi Chuka, Hiyashi Somen
Nikomi and Wafu Hamburg, Menchi Katsu, Subuta Dango, Mabo-don, & Hiyayakko, Agedashi Dofu, Yasai Kakiage, Karaage sides
Uni Spaghetti, Miso Marinated Broiled Salmon
Wafu Steak, Special Bento Box - 1
Menchi Katsu Sando