Sapping strength

[coffee sign]Sapp Coffee Shop (5183 Hollywood Blvd.) – In a stretch of LA absolutely littered with tiny Thai establishments (it is Thai Town, after all), some sporting nary an English letter on their signage, it’s unlikely I would ever be otherwise compelled to enter a door bearing this name, nor frankly even suspect it was actually a restaurant at all. Lay the blame a certain foodster TV show. Or, in this case, thank that show (which, if I understand correctly, drew its own inspiration from a noodle-obsessed Angeleno blogger), because this is awesomely good. My boat noodles with beef, tendon, and tripe are as terrific as advertised, and the resultant broth is dense, impenetrable magic, increasingly spicy and increasingly wonderful as I drain it to its dregs. Just as interesting are the dry jade noodles with peanuts, barbecued pork, and chiles.

So the food’s terrific and the prices are almost laughably insignificant. But here’s what else I love. We’re here with a vegan friend, and even in diet-obsessed LA I’d be wary of the conversation necessary to eliminate certain ingredients from dishes (it helps that she’s not particularly militant and probably won’t throw a fit if a dollop of unmentioned fish sauce shows up in something). But our waitress, who has already talked me out of a simpler preparation of my boat noodle dish and into a more complex, “native” version, while talking another fellow diner out of the soupy version of jade noodles and into the delicious dry variation, enters into a long dialogue with our friend about exactly what she does and does not want, constructing a satisfactory dish (of vegetables, rice, and very spicy tofu) in that conversation. Later, another employee arrives with a little chile-infused dipping sauce, pauses after a glance our friend’s plate, and asks, “do you eat fish sauce?” When the answer’s no, I expect this to be the last we’ll see of the sauce. But no…another one arrives, this time with soy. Not everyone would do that, because not everyone would care; many would be annoyed at the very idea of substitution, others at the potential waste. This restaurant knows it’s good, wants you to know it, and wants you to love it. It’s hard to see how one couldn’t.

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