Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You Likea da Spice? You'll love-a This Place! Sab E Lee Thai, Linda Vista

Sab E Lee entrance - at the NE corner of Linda Vista and Ulrich
Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall near the corner of Ulrich and Linda Vista Road, Sab E Lee is the kind of place you probably wouldn't notice unless you knew what you were looking for - and maybe not even then. I pulled into the parking lot to turn around, thinking I must have passed it - until I recognized the lace curtains and sign right directly in front of me from photos. (The name of the business is not displayed in English, only Thai.) I met my friend Alex there for lunch, and when we sat down at one of the six or so tables inside, we were the only party. The friendly owner, named Koby, offered us menus and asked us how we'd heard about the place. We truthfully told him we had friends who had been there and recommended it, and we had read about it on Chowhound, which seemed to please him immensely.
Spicy Pork Leg with Mint Leaf at Sab E Lee
Though we couldn't remember which dishes the Chowhounders had enjoyed, we still managed to pick one of them as our first choice, the Spicy Pork Leg with Mint Leaf, pictured above. The other dishes we chose were the Green Papaya Salad, the Catfish Larb, a warm noodle salad called Yum Woon-Sen, and the Spicy Raw Beef. We overdid it a little bit, but we wanted to try several dishes - and at an average price of about $7.00 per menu items, we didn't suffer too much for it.
Sticky Rice at Sab E Lee
The food here is notable for its spiciness, which is intense - but there are layered flavors underneath the heat that keep you coming back for more. The Spicy Pork Leg with Mint Leaf was spicy, but not punishingly so, unlike the beautiful but deadly Green Papaya Salad. Alex enjoyed this so much that despite the sweat involved, he ate almost all of it. His evident distress sent me running to the liquor store next door for some beer. I could only eat a few bites before taking a nice long break (during which I went to buy the beer) to let my palate recover. Really, it was that hot. Green Papaya Salad is one of those things that sneaks up on you too, with its cool slippery texture, it's hard to believe it packs such a wallop, and yet it does. (We ordered a 7 on the spiciness scale, to give you an idea, but we asked them not to gringo-ize the food for us.)
Green Papaya Salad at Sab E Lee
The noodle dish was a little bit of a break from the spicy, but not much. It was warm, which surprised us - I had expected something cool. It was sweet and savory with fish sauce, some calamari, cilantro, chiles and peanuts. We took most of this to go, and my friend who wound up eating it was absolutely thrilled.
Glass Noodle Salad at Sab E Lee
The Catfish Larb was not as exciting to me as it seems to have been to some, but to be honest by the time I got to it - my mouth was so on fire I could hardly taste anything. I've had larb before and loved it, and I am comfortable taking the word of friends who've eaten it that it's a fantastic version. It's one of the dishes Koby is most proud of, and something they are famous for - so if you go, it's definitely something to try.
Spicy Raw Beef at Sab E Lee
This last dish - probably the most unusual we tried - was the Spicy Raw Beef, pictured above. I like raw beef quite a lot - I often order carpaccio when it's on the menu, and never shy away from a rare steak, so I liked the texture and taste of the meat quite a bit. I probably wouldn't order this again though, because I wasn't crazy about the grainy texture of the spices coating the meat. That's probably just my personal foible though, so don't let it stop you from trying it if you're curious. The menu said something about tripe, but I didn't detect any in evidence here, which for me was just as well.

As we were eating, Koby told us a little bit about the restaurant. He's from Los Angeles originally, and so is his chef - she's cooked at a couple of very well known restaurants up there, so I'm sure the tiny kitchen and dining room of Sab E Lee is quite a change for her. He can cook himself, but he prefers to run the front of the house - you really can't do both, as he pointed out. He saw a void in San Diego's restaurant market and decided to fill it. The style of cuisine at Sab E Lee is Northern Thai, which he seemed to indicate is spicier than southern. One of the more intriguing dishes on the menu is the "Northern" and "Northeastern" style sausage which is characteristic of this region. There are several other dishes I've never seen on a Thai (or any other) restaurant menu, including Salted Lettuce Soup, Pork Tongue Jerky, and "Curded" Pork Blood Soup.

Since our visit, I've heard from several other foodie friends that they've tried it and loved it, and I wouldn't be surprised if they outgrow their teeny tiny location before long. I, for one, am already planning my next visit.

Sab E Lee
2405 Ulrich Street (on the Northeast corner of Linda Vista and Ulrich)
(858) 650-6868
Open 7 days
9:30 AM to 9:30 PM

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

If you go to Pescadero... A Slow Journey down the San Mateo Coast, Part I

Nancy Vail, the Farm Manager at Pie Ranch
Two Saturdays ago, in the middle of Slow Food Nation, I took a day off from the festivities in the City to go on an all day journey that wound up being the highlight of my trip. It was a "Slow Journey" down the San Mateo Coast, with stops at Pillar Point Harbor at Half Moon Bay, and three beautiful small farms, Pie Ranch, Harley Farms Goat Dairy, and Blue House Farm.
The view of Harley Farms from the loft
Complicated as it was, with multiple overlapping events and venues on opposite sides of town, it took me literally three days of poring over the calendar to come up with my schedule for Slow Food Nation. I decided that I wanted to do one of these trips early on, because they seemed to offer a chance to do something truly unique, and I was curious to be on the receiving end of a tour having guided some this past year myself. The Half Moon Bay journey caught my eye because I had not been to the area before - through what I now know was an outrageous oversight on my part - and because (be still my beating heart!) it included a visit to a goat farm. Those of you who know me well (or at all) have likely heard me wax poetic about my plan to retire to a farm in Northern California to raise goats and make cheese. If you haven't, well, there you have it. I figure it will keep me busy into my old age, and as James likes to say, "Everybody needs a hobby."

Though Slow Food Nation is long over at this point, three out of the four locations we visited are open to the public, and well worth a day trip (and Blue House Farm would probably let you visit if you called.)
Pie Ranch Farm
If you want to go on your own Half Moon Bay Slow Journey, I'd recommend starting at Pie Ranch, located about 20 minutes South of Pescadero.
The farmhouse at Pie Ranch
Pie Ranch is named both for the shape of the property (described to us by Farm Manager Nancy Vail, pictured at top, as "two pieces of pie kissing in the middle" ) and the fact that they grow wheat for flour and fruit that they use to make pies. It's a historic location, the site of one of the area's first and longest running dairy farms - and the farm house and buildings are still intact but in need of repairs. They are farming the lower half of the property pursuant to a lease from Peninsula Open Space Trust, an organization that works to preserve coastal property for agricultural use in the face of rising property values, and are currently in the midst of a capital campaign to raise funds to secure a long term lease and restore the buildings.

The farm works with urban high schoolers from Palo Alto and San Francisco, teaching them about about growing food, working on the farm, and the rewards that come from making something delicious with your own two hands. Pies made with the fruit they grow on the farm are sold at Mission Pie in San Francisco, but for the pies made by the students with wheat milled on the property, you'll have to go to the farm stand. If you're interested in visiting, you can call and ask about work weekends, or just ask for a tour in exchange for a donation.
A mobile chicken coop at Pie Ranch
The farm overlooks Highway 1 from the East, and we were dropped off at the top of the hill and walked down, past the crops and the farm buildings, all the way down to the farm stand right on Highway 1. They had two mobile chicken coops where they just harvested some wheat, and were producing strawberries, citrus, apples and pumpkins for the pies. They also sell pastured eggs through a "Community Supported Eggriculture" program as well as at the farm stand. The eggs looked so beautiful that I was sad that I couldn't buy any since I wasn't going home right away. (Don't you just love those pale green ones?)
Tarts and Galettes at Pie Ranch
The farm stand also features their pies, these galettes and tarts, jam, pancake mix, and the beautiful produce from Blue House Farms. It's not inexpensive, but everything is gorgeous, sustainably grown and in my opinion, well worth it (especially the plum and frangipane tart I bought, which barely made it back to the bus.) The Olallieberry jam (which came in a lovely reusable Weck jar) is some of the best I've ever had.
Produce from Blue House Farm at the Pie Ranch Farmstand
If you took any time getting to Pie Ranch, and especially if you've had a tour - you're probably ready for lunch by now. Based on this recommendation from Tara of Tea and Cookies and the recommendation of our tour guide, Anne Duwe - a local resident and staff member at the Peninsula Open Space Trust, I'd probably go to Duarte's Tavern (pronounced Doo-arts) for some artichoke and green chile soup before heading around the corner to the dairy.
The loft (upstairs) at Harley Farms
Harley Farms is a picture perfect farm and dairy located just behind the main downtown area of Pescadero. We had lunch arranged in the loft of the barn (the open door in the photo above), which is where they normally do the tasting after their very popular tours. They served us fresh soft goat cheese on grilled bread, wine, raviolis filled with more goat cheese, a green salad made with lettuces from Blue House Farms, and for dessert - what else? Pie from Pie Ranch of course.

While we ate, Jesse Cool, the owner of three organic restaurants in the Menlo Park area, talked with us about the challenges of running a restaurant using a sustainable business model and her own experiences with Slow Food, and entertained us with some stories about the locals.
Harley Farms goat cheese at the farm lunch
After lunch (and did I mention wine?) we trundled down to the field to meet the milking goats and tour the milking shed. We even got to milk a goat, which is something I won't soon forget - and there was time for shopping in their store - which is always open even if you don't have an appointment for a tour. The cheese is worth seeking out, with a soft texture and sweet clean flavor. I also saw it at San Francisco's Whole Foods, but I don't think it makes it all the way down to San Diego. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong - so I can go buy some.
And just as sweet as they look
One of the most surprising things I learned at the farm was that they use llamas to protect the goats - the llamas are fiercely protective, especially of the babies (kids) and won't let the adult goats, or anything else, near them. The female goats are very social and love to come up and rub their heads on you, hoping to be petted (and milked.) Harley Farms does not sell goats for meat - they loan them out for land clearing projects and sell them as pets occasionally, but the females are used for milking and quite literally put them out to pasture when they're done - across the street.

You can read more about Harley Farms on the owner's blog and view more photos here.

To be continued... Coming up - Blue House Farm and Pillar Point Harbor

Pie Ranch
2080 Cabrillo Highway (Hwy 1)
Pescadero CA 94060
call for farmstand hours - currently open 12-6 Saturdays and Sundays

Mission Pie
2901 Mission St. (entrance on 25th Street)
San Francisco

More about Mission Pie and Pie Ranch (and their Mixed Berry Pie Recipe!) from SF Gate

Harley Farms Goat Dairy
205 North St.
Pescadero, CA 94060

Duarte's Tavern
202 Stage Road
Pescadero, CA 94060

Monday, September 01, 2008

Slow Food for the Unfamiliar

Over the past few days, as I've written and talked about this event to people who weren't involved - I've realized that not everyone knows what the heck Slow Food - much less Slow Food Nation, is all about - and it might be helpful to have a little primer.

Ways to go slow

Slow Food is a movement dedicated to a return to traditional ways of producing and enjoying food. Growing food on a local level, preparing it in a manner that showcases it's true character, enjoying it around a table with friends and family, those are guidelines that Slow Food espouses. Somewhere along the way, Slow Food has also developed a political angle. To my knowledge, this is a relatively recent development - certainly within the past ten years, and maybe even within the last five. Slow Food's current stated goal is now "clean, fair food for all" - affordable is sometimes thrown in there, though that can be a bit of a landmine, because Slow Food is ALSO about fair payment to food producers for their artisanal goods. That, as we all know - can require one to part with a "fair" amount of money, and I don't mean that in the social justice sense.

Some in Slow Food would like to see it become a force for political change. According to the NY Times, in one of the sessions I didn't attend, Michael Pollan said: “The era of cheap food is over. Politicians like cheap food. It’s what allows them to sleep at night. We’ve known this since the French Revolution.” People need to change their lifestyles, but in order to really make a difference, he said, "Slow Food needs policy people and lawyers to carry the message beyond the table and the field." In other word, to counter the influence of lobbyists from the agribusiness giants. (Where do I sign up??)
Apples at the Marketplace
The most often heard criticism of Slow Food is that it is nothing more than a bunch of self-congratulatory dilletantes sitting around patting themselves on the back and eating five dollar peaches. It's true that a certain amount of that does exist, but that sort of generalized naysaying arguably dismisses the efforts of the educators, farmers and growers who live by the prinicples of Slow Food, in some cases molding their lives around them. They might do what they do with or without Slow Food, but the organization provides a platform for them to bring the message to other people who might not otherwise hear it, through school programs, community projects, neighborhood farms, gardens, and farmers markets. When people who hear this message stop shopping at Albertsons and start growing their own food and buying from their local markets - they start investing in their own communities. On a widespread scale, that can be a powerful thing.
I agree...
Slow Food also encourages consumers from all walks of life to contribute to their communities by going to farmers markets, eating locally - even just buying from local businesses is a step in the right direction. There's no one dogmatic approach - and everyone takes from it what they will. It's not necessary to be a member to live the life, and arguably, if you're out there doing it, then you're already a member of the movement, whether or not you carry a card in your wallet.
Lunch in the loft at Harley Farms
Apart from the political side - Slow Food encourages families to eat together, and enjoy fresh, high-quality foods, produced in a sustainable manner. Of course, these things cost money - since they cost more to produce, but I do have to admit, they really do taste better. Over this past weekend, I had strawberries that tasted like candy, and tomatoes that literally made me swoon. (I also had a pickle that tasted like a bad mussel, but we'll forget about that for right now.) When you pay more for these foods, especially if the producers are in your local area - you're putting that money back into the community, and helping someone make a living wage. When you buy the lesser quality produce at the supermarket, you're sending that money off to a corporation that is likely using most of it to pay for fossil fuels - and the rest on pesticides, the bane of large-scale farming. Wages? Pah - the stuff is grown in Mexico. Soil quality? What's that?

On a practical level, nutrients in the food are actually lost in the transportation process, and sustainably grown produce actually has more nutrients to start with if it's grown in good soil. If you haven't read Michael Pollan's book, the Omnivore's Dilemma - it's an excellent place to start with an understanding of why large scale farming is unhealthy, and why good soil is so important for growing food.
The SFN Victory Garden
Slow Food Nation itself, I have to admit - I am still trying to figure out. The stated purpose was to bring people together and energize the movement, and I think in terms of that goal, it was a success. The weekend offered lectures, the Civic Center happenings (which were free) the Taste Pavilions (with the $65.00 tickets) the Slow Journeys (one of which I went on) and several workshops sponsored by various advertisers, which had low cost tickets at around $10.00.

It was a convention, a festival and a showplace. A way to draw attention to the movement - which contrary to what some may believe - has not subsumed all of San Francisco just yet. It was a little over the top in some ways, but that's what sells tickets (and sell tickets they did.) It was educational - and though some criticize for "preaching to the converted" - sometimes the converted need a little encouragement and inspiration - a little recharging of the batteries - in order to keep doing what they're doing and feel like it's making a difference.

Did I need to see a giant bread snail, or stand in line for prosciutto in order to feel this way? Probably not, and I would think twice before paying for the Taste Pavilion experience (my ticket was comped) but I'm glad I went this one time. It was - as was the event as a whole - definitely something to see.