The story: The Saap Avenue originally opened up last September in the old Adesso space on Piedmont Avenue as Chai Thai Bar. But the owner, whose family has a couple of restaurants with the same name in Oakland and Hayward, found patrons expected the same volume of menu choices and with the smaller space in the new restaurant, it was quickly rebranded as The Saap Avenue to focus on Laotian street food.
Why I went: This is up the street from my Oakland apartment and Adesso was a convenient neighborhood bar and snack spot for me. So I wanted to check out what took over the space and whether it could provide me with another convenient dining option in the hood.
The vibe: The space kept much of the Adesso layout, with a large central bar and high communal table facing a flat-screen TV often showing a local sports game. The only dramatic change is the colorful street mural plastered on the main wall. I went twice for dinner last month, one by myself and another time with my sister who was visiting. Both times there were a steady flow of people coming in and out, but both times I was able to get a table without much of a wait.
The booze: With the large bar, the bartenders are often busy mixing cocktails for guests. There are about five specialty cocktails. On my first visit, I tried the Saap Saap Tea, which was a whisky drink with Thai tea, Bailey Irish Cream, and an egg white foam. It was smooth and enjoyable. On my second visit, I tried the Basil Julep, which was made with bourbon and elderflower with mint, and it was a bit on the strong side. Also, when it arrived, it looked like a cup of crushed ice (I couldn’t see any of the liquor underneath).
The menu: While not as extensive as other Thai-Laotian restaurants, it still has a lot to offer. Saap Avenue’s menu is broken up into salads, appetizers, noodles, curries and more meaty options. I’m always a sucker for fried rice ball salad, where pungent fried rice is mixed with pork sausage and then eaten with fresh herbs and lettuce cups. Saap Avenue’s version was basic without the herbs but still tasty. The Ho Mok Pla is a Laotian-style steamed catfish that was tender and juicy to eat, served with basic steamed vegetables.
With my sister, she tried the crispy egg rolls (which I wouldn’t order since I don’t eat deep-fried foods) and she liked how it was fried and appreciated that the filling was all vegetarian and still tasted interesting. But she wasn’t that impressed with our order of “Kamoo,” a pork stew that really is just slowly braised pork served with vegetables and rice. Also, our Tom Yon noodle soup (the classic sweet sour soup noodles) were just meh.
Side note: The only dessert item is mango sticky rice. My sister wasn’t impressed by the sticky rice we had with our dinner, so she ordered this without sticky rice, so basically it was fresh mango with condensed milk. LOL
My favorite dish: Like I said I’m a sucker for the fried rice ball and of all the things I’ve tried so far, this is one item I will definitely order again when I go back because of the savoriness of the filling.
The last bite: The Saap Avenue is a fun and welcoming environment, and the dishes are good and maybe fancified for the neighborhood. But it’s not dramatically better to be labeled high-end Laotian. It’s just good dishes in a modern setting.
The deets: The Saap Avenue, 4395 Piedmont Ave. (at Pleasant Valley), Oakland. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight; and Sunday, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Closed Mondays. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.thesaapavenue.com
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