The New Sap’s, or Sap's II
5800 Burnet Rd, Allandale Village
Sunday I ate at Sap’s newly opened restaurant, at the southern bend of the Allandale Shopping Center, on the southwest corner of 2222 at Burnet Rd. It’s across the street from where the original Frisco Shop stood for decades. It has just opened a couple of days, and is sporting a big "Now Open" sign. When you walk in the door, you are transformed by the calming sound of gurgling fountains, and myriad colors from Sap's now-famous umbrella ceiling, as well as the colorful artwork and décor. There is a series of hanging, folded-up paper umbrella lamps that are very unique, all glowing in pastel colors.
...facing bar, pointing west
...facing bar, looking east, towards the entry
...looking across part of dining room, towards the bar
On the right said is the bar, if you want to come in for a beer or wine and get a nosh without taking up a table of booth (I wish he would add mixed drinks, it would be a perfect cocktail spot for the neighborhood). Most of the seating is in comfy over-stuffed booths, with a line of tables running left-center. On the far left side is a separate party room-overflow seating area that can hold up to 60, and Sap doesn't charge for the room. It is made up of all tables, so the space is flexible.
...the party room
My dining partner was a bit of a wimp, spice-wise, so the menu choices reflect her piquant semi-aversion. That fact might prove refreshing for those afraid that Thai food is all way too spicy for them. We started with the Fresh Spring Rolls with Shrimp (S-A2), tender rice paper wrappers around a filling of poached shrimp, rice noodles, crispy lettuce, basil, and mint, served with a smooth peanut and tamarind dipping sauce; always a perfect starter, especially on a hot day.
.....fresh spring rolls with peanut-tamarind dipping sauce
For entrees we ordered the S-P2, Pad Ga-Tiem Prik Thai, a delicious dry-style stir fry that’s an old hybrid Thai-Chinese dish, using dark soy and fish sauce, with lots of garlic and liberal black pepper. The prik Thai part of the name literally translates to “Thai pepper”. Before the Portuguese imported chiles in 1529, the original Thai pepper was peppercorn. It grows all over the country, but down in the southeast around Chanthaburi, known as “The Fruitbasket of Thailand”, there are huge peppercorn fields and it is a regional specialty. When you go to the markets, you see big bags of pristine black and white peppercorns for sale everywhere, and in season at the massive Noen Sung Fruit Market, baskets of crunchy, piquant emerald green young peppercorns. The area produces about 75% of the peppercorns in Thailand, and Thais feel that the pepper from Chanthaburi is the finest available. Tender, garlicky, and with just a little peppery bite, this is a very satisfying dish.
...beef with garlicky-pepper sauce
Next up was S-P28, Sap’s Sweet and Sour, and we ordered it with ground pork. When you think of sweet and sour, the immediate image is of Americanized-Chinese thick, gloppy ketchup and vinegar sauce. Thai sweet and sour is nothing like that in the least. It has soy and fish sauce, palm sugar and vinegar, tomato paste and chile sauce, lemongrass and Thai lime leaf, and a healthy dose of garlic. The texture of the sauce is more like a velvety soup and the effect is one of lightness, barely coating the ingredients. It came with chunks of fresh pineapple, onion, cloud ear mushrooms, crunchy green beans, and quartered baby long eggplants, perfect with the sweet ground pork. I like to get it with a little of the incendiary naam jim talay garlic-green chile sauce on the side that comes with the grilled seafood skewers; it’s a perfect match.
We got one of my old standby’s, S-F11, Guay Tiew Kua Gai, flat sen yai rice noodles stir-fried with ground chicken, egg, bean sprouts, sweet-sour pickled radish, a soy-based mother sauce, and a big salad on the side. I love this dish. It also comes with a clear sweet chile sauce to garnish it with, and then I like to add a little Siracha sauce to balance the sweet. Notice I spelled it Siracha instead of Sriracha, like the dreaded Rooster Brand. That’s because Amphoe Si Racha, a seaside district just south of Bangkok and north of Pattaya, near Chonburi, is where the THAI fermented chile sauce originated. The Thai chile version, from Si Racha, is infinitely better than the jalapeño version made in south L.A. by the Vietnamese Rooster Brand. Word-up: if you ever see the rare yellow Thai chile version of Si Racha Sauce in any Asian market, grab and cherish every drop of its spicy lusciousness. You can find it over there, but seldom over here.
....the famous SF-11
Last was the magnificent Tiger Cry, S-P48, Seua Rong Hai. Tiger Cry is an Isaan dish of sliced, marinated grilled meat accompanied by a spicy Jaew dipping sauce. It can be eaten as a salad (not my way of thinking of this dish) or as an entrée, and is very popular over there as a snack eaten to accompany cold beers or shots of whiskey. When you see this dish offered by Thai restaurants in the States cooked as a stir-fry, you can be assured that it is not an authentic preparation. In less chile-tolerant America, this old traditional dish has taken on a new meaning as being a “dish so hot that it makes even a tiger cry,” but that is far from the original translation of the dish in Thailand, where seua means “tiger” and rong hai means “crying”.
Originally, the dish was made using only meat from water buffalo that had gotten too old to continue working the fields. A water buffalo is too valuable as a farm work animal, especially in the rice paddies, to be raised for food; they are only eaten after having lost their ability to contribute. In Thailand it was known as “tiger cry” because the meat of the older water buffalo was so tough and hard to chew that it made even a tiger cry. Although water buffalo meat is still eaten in Thailand, especially in poorer outlying districts, the growth of the Thai beef cattle industry, and the import of beef from Australia, the U.S., and South America has made high quality affordable beef available nationwide. Thankfully the tiger cry cooked at Sap’s is a misnomer; it is remarkably tender, and spicy, but not intolerably so.
Sap’s kitchen uses high quality sirloin steak, marinated simply in garlic, soy, and fish sauce. The beef is char-grilled to medium-rare, rested, and sliced thinly against the grain, yielding delicious, juicy, smoky, fork-tender steak strips. These slices are wrapped with romaine lettuce leaves and red onion, and dipped into a thin jaew sauce of lime, lemongrass, fish sauce, soy, dried roasted chile, scallion, and cilantro, thickened slightly with nutty ground roasted rice, with just a touch of palm sugar to give a little balance to the citrus; this sauce is like crack for char-grilled meat. The sticky rice is eaten with the fingers, shaping it into little footballs, to soak up the succulent meat juices. The flavor of tiger cry is extraordinary and it’s so tender it melts in your mouth; it's one of the best meat dishes on the menu. We ended up fighting over that last bite. A glass of water and a pot of ginger tea with a little brown sugar and we were completely satiated, happy as can be.
....tiger cry: a tender mound of char-grilled steak strip deliciousness. the foil packet holds the sticky rice. the steak knife is superfluous.
Sap’s new outlet is superb, and a delight for the eyes. What was a funky spot on the wrong end of the strip center has been magically transformed into a temple of Thai cuisine, soon to become a new anchor for the strip. Go there, you won’t be disappointed.
Mick Vann ©