Occupation: Database Developer
Favorite Restaurant: Souk Savanh Restaurant
Reviewed Souk Savanh Restaurant: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Souk Savanh is a friendly, welcoming restaurant in East Oakland serving delicious Lao and Thai food. I want to help introduce them to a wider public because the place has been almost empty each time we go. Perhaps one reason for this is that the neighborhood is pretty rough: we try to park our car within a block of the restaurant, and after dark the door is locked and you must ring a bell to be buzzed in.
Once you’re inside, it’s more peaceful, with Buddha statues along the walls and at the entrance. The red and cream walls feature a vinyl appliqué of a martial artist dancing in the grass with among falling leaves and red flowers. A television in the corner plays unobtrusive Lao music videos (apparently there is a karaoke night if you’re feeling bold).
On your first visit, I recommend speaking with the chef about how many chilies to add to your dishes rather than saying something like “medium hot” which is, after all, a relative term. Our limit is about 3-4 chilies, and that’s reasonably hot (though not “Thai hot”). Consider ordering your first dish with just 1-2, then taste it and place your other orders based on that experience.
We like to start with a couple of salads, like the Nam Kao Tod, which combines crispy fried rice with sour fermented pork sausage, mint, cilantro and toasted chilies. You roll everything up in a lettuce leaf for a unique combination of crunch and bite, controlling the heat by choosing how much chili to crumble over it.
We also love the Som Tam With Prawns, shredded slightly tart papaya sweetened with honey, and seasoned with garlic, mint, and fish sauce. This dish and also the Larb, with their fresh, clean flavors, make good complements for the rich coconut-sauce dishes, such as the Kaeng Ka Ree (Thai yellow curry). This classic has our ideal balance of flavors and consistency: strips of tender chicken breast in coconut cream, fragrant with lemongrass and galangal. After we’ve eaten all the meat, we spoon the sauce over rice until every drop is gone.
Another favorite is the Ta Lay Pad Mar Kur Yao, which combines mussels, calamari, and fish with eggplant, bell pepper, and onions in a tangy and complex sauce, spicy with basil. My partner eats most of the seafood and I eat all the eggplant (I’ve started to ask the chef to add extra).
We always wrap up our meal with the fried bananas, which is the best version we’ve had: hot bananas in crisp, light batter paired with creamy Mitchell’s ice cream full of bits of coconut, drizzled with honey that turns chewy from the cold.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Izakaya Yuzuki
Reviewed Souk Savanh Restaurant: Saturday, February 9, 2013
Souk Savanh means “Paradise in Heaven” and is the moniker of a charmingly modest restaurant in Oakland where you can dine to your heart’s content on a novel and affordable menu. The food is traditional Lao cuisine with familiar Thai food options prepared by a friendly Lao family. Lao cuisine has a wide range of spice and flavors ranging from lemongrass, cilantro, and basil to chilis, curries, and garlic. The food is zesty and not too heavy or sweet. Especially memorable were the curry dishes (kaeng kow wan and kaeng pa nang), extra-wide rice noodle dishes (pad kee mow and kow soy boran soup), and pleasantly surprising takes on meats (mok pa fish, Lao sausage). The flavors of each dish are unique and distinct and the complementary tastes make for an extremely satisfying meal. Don’t forget a few orders of traditional Lao sticky rice served in a little woven basket. The freshly prepared proteins and vegetables make you feel positively healthy until you indulge in dessert (fried banana and coconut ice cream with honey), which is not to be missed. The neighborhood is not a big draw, but Souk Savanh’s high quality fresh food with an affordable price tag is a welcome change from the more mainstream Thai restaurants in the city.
Occupation: Children’s Librarian
Favorite Restaurant: Maverick
Reviewed Souk Savanh Restaurant: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
It was my first experience being buzzed into a restaurant and I was a bit apprehensive. Also, we were the only diners during the duration of our visit. Our outing was a good reminder that you can’t judge a book by its cover!
We asked our server for recommendations and she suggested Nam Kao. It vaguely reminded me of Vietnamese lettuce wraps in with rice in that you wrap the filling and are encouraged to use the mint. The crispy pieces of pork skin are what set this apart. Actually, the first wrap I made somehow didn’t have any pork in it, just fried skin (not that I am complaining). She was careful to ask how spicy we wanted dishes, and I told her medium would be fine. Another recommended dish was the spicy wings. They arrived “three bears style”– not too hot, not too bland, just right. They were saucy and crispy at the same time! For a salad, we did the papaya salad. The restaurant offers both a Laotian and Thai version, but we were told the Laotian version was more adventurous. I can’t compare the two, but I would order it again. This was a bit spicier and we brought home the leftovers.
Pad Ka Eww was an item I’d had at other Thai places. To be fair, it was a little light on the broccoli, but there was a very good ratio of beef to noodles. I think I had thirds. Again we turned to our server for advice as our order seemed light on produce. She proposed an eggplant stir fry. This was the weakest dish with far more bell peppers than eggplant, and quite crunchy, as though they hadn’t been cooked long enough. The tofu was a bit rubbery, hinting that it might have been cooked too long. That misstep was forgotten when we ordered the fried bananas with coconut ice cream and honey. The coldness of the ice cream turned the honey into a gooey consistency. It felt like a healthy sundae! Do not miss this.
Get past the lack of guests. Order take-out if it makes you uncomfortable, but if you haven’t tried Laotian food, Souk Savanh is a great first encounter.