Where does time go? In some ways, it seems like it was just yesterday that Sab E Lee opened in Linda Vista. But that was almost five years ago. I knew after our first meal that the place was a "keeper", a Thai restaurant that wasn't afraid to give you a taste of Issan, the fresh, bright flavors, and burning spice. I still recall the pleasure of having my first Koi Soi in six or so years, on the day Koby finally was able to source the beef he wanted. I recall taking Josh Silberman, former writer for City Beat, along with my good buddy Candice (then writer for City Beat) and getting the Koi Soi at heat level "10".....watching Josh turn red, then purple, sweat pouring down his face which seemed to be swelling, him telling me, "it hurts....but I just can't stop!" Such good times. After the late Naomi Wise wrote, "At Last True Thai", the place literally blew up.....you had to choose your times well at the tiny five table joint. Still, it couldn't have happened to a group of nicer folks. Of course time does keep on moving on, Koby sold his share of the Linda Vista location to the folks running the place to open Sab E Lee in Santee, then in turn selling his share of that place to move on to destination unknown. Before you knew it, Jay, a fixture at the Linda Vista location had moved back to Thailand. Good things the cooks were still in place. Since then, it seems that the young folks running the front of house changed from time to time and it became basically a place for take-out. Other than seeing and chatting with the cooks, I really lost my connection with the now slightly renamed Original Sab E Lee. So I was caught off guard when "KevinK" mentioned that a location of the Original Sab E Lee was opening in Rancho Penasquitos which I just had to check out. I was told the projected grand opening, but had a packed schedule. I thought that having a group of us get together would be nice; especially since our good friends TFD and MrC live up in San Marcos and always make a point of coming to see us. It would only be fair to meet them halfway.
Instead of going forward, you may want to read any number of posts from San Diego Food Bloggers, who have eaten there. The menu is basically the same as the location on Linda Vista. This restaurant seat about 50 and was pretty packed by the time we left.
Several of the folks running the front of house recognized me when I came by....what was even more funny was when Maylee came out......you see we were pretty much all regulars at TOSEL, but had rarely eaten together. She was shocked and pleasantly surprised that we all knew each other.
As for the food....well, I was honored to be given the job of doing most of the ordering. TFD wanted Seafood Tom Yum and I knew that while MrC could handle "Lao spicy", which on the scale of 1-10 is a 12; MrQ has been known to order a heat level of "1", which wasn't going to fly. Still I ordered items at a mixed heat level. Actually, you could read any number of my former posts on the Linda Vista location as well.
We got a couple of orders of Issan Sausage to start:
A nice standby, not made inhouse, but I love the slightly fermented sour flavor.
The Grilled Duck Larb at heat level 5 was very well done on this day.
Though well spiced, the flavor of the duck came through quite well. This is one of those dishes that reminds me of Thailand....the textures; melt-in-your mouth is not meant for a dish like larb, it has to have texture.
The Salted Fish Fried Rice, the strong and heady fragrance, belies a wonderfully savory flavor.
This was very good.
The Pad See Eew with Shrimp displayed the wok hey that I experienced on my very first visit to Sab E Lee way back when.
The carb dishes were leading the way it seems.....
The Seafood Tom Yum, at a spice level 5 seemed like the most spiciest dish of the day.
MrQ did us proud as he handled the Koi Neua at a heat level 7.
We always count on Candice to provide the liquid refreshment.....which goes great with this dish. Spicy, nutty, with the wonderful raw beef texture...add in the the flavor of the herbs and you've got a nice dish.
Just for memories sake, I ordered the Naked Shrimp, though only at heat level 8. This was the dish that MrC had us order at "Lao spicy" which caused first degree burns around our lips once. We weren't going there this time.
This raw shrimp dish was a bit drier than what I recalled, lacking in the galangal and other herbs and citrus which elevate the heat. I did enjoy the slices of bittermelon as a nice tannic counter-point to the chilies.
Compared to what I've had at TOSEL on previous visits, the Catfish Larb was quite mild in flavor. Perhaps ordering it at a heat level 5 affected things.
As things were winding down, we were treated to a nice surprise from the kitchen......
A sampling of ice cream and sticky rice with mango from the kitchen, gratis.......such a nice gesture.
Service was as good as can be expected for a new restaurant. The front of house was friendly and accommodating. The real winners on this day was the duck larb and the salted fish fried rice....actually, since the food was pretty much what we expected from TOSEL, I'd say that we were the real winners. Though we often think of Rancho Penasquitos as being a universe away from us, it's only about 12 miles. The Missus and I will probably drop by again one day soon.
The Original Sab-E-Lee
13223-2 Black Mountain Rd
San Diego, CA 92129