Where We Eat: Sate Southeast Asian Grill

Carlos over at Carlos Eats works as a blog marketer for some local Tampa restaurants. One of the restaurants he represents is Sate Southeast Asian Grill. When he asked if my wife and I would come by and try out some of what the restaurant offered, we jumped at the chance. Afterall, it was one of those places that we planned to visit on our own once her pregnancy food aversions went away.

Sate is all about customization. It is like the Asian version of Chipotle (or Little Greek or Your Pie). You, the customer, get to dress your Asian bowl (or Banh Mi) in whatever style you desire. Sate has five or six large boards posted above the counter. Here is where your customization begins. The first board provides you with your base options. You can go Jasmine Rice, Vermicelli Noodle or a Spring Salad if you are looking at a bowl. You could also go with the Sate Sandwich if you want to try out a Banh Mi. J-Fur went with her staple base of Vermicelli Noodle. I went with my staple base of everything is better on bread. On the next board you have your meat options:

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For vegetarians, your choices are pretty slim. You can have tofu basted in a garlic black bean sauce or you can have none of the above (other options include chicken, steak, BBQ Pork or shredded pork). Both of us went with the tofu. One of the customers in line told the man making his bowl, “I came for the tofu. It is the best in the city.” It seemed, at least in this guy’s mind, we were in good hands. The next board lists your choices of veggies. These include Vietnamese pickles, Asian herbs, Thai cucumber (not vegetarian because it is cooked in fish sauce), spicy bean sprouts, spicy charred corn and grilled peppers and onions. Finally you top your meal off with a sauce of your choice. There are six options total, only three work for vegetarians. These are BBQ glaze, Peanut and Thai Satay. Tai, the owner, was nice enough to hook us up with a sampling of all three. Just like at Chipotle, there is a final area to finish customizing your meal the way you want. Here the offerings include jalapenos, cilantro, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts, crispy Asian onions, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and more.

With the tough decisions behind us, it was time to eat. First we ripped into J-Fur’s vermicelli noodle bowl. She filled it with noodles, tofu, cucumber, charred corn, peppers and onions, lettuce, tomatoes and daikon. On the side we had cilantro (for her) and spicy bean sprouts (for me). We tried each of the sauces to see which one might work best with the noodles. I thought the peanut sauce was weak (although I think all peanut sauces are weak). J-Fur seemed to agree as we had most of that left over at the end. The Thai Satay, which is a sunflower based sauce, worked the best with the noodles and fresh vegetables. She loved the flavors and textures that blended seamlessly in the bowl. These included the crispness of the vegetables, the slight pickling of the daikon, the hint of garlic and black bean from the tofu and the spicy charred corn. Oh that corn. She went on and on about the sweet and salty that flowed through those kernels. This bowl was guided by Tai. J-Fur, on her own, probably would not have crafted things the way he did. She was very thankful for this because she really liked it. I mean REALLY liked it. It had a little bit of everything: sweet, sour, salty, spicy. And, more importantly, it had too much of nothing. The flavors were blended in a way that only a true food artist could.

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J-Fur’s Vermicelli Noodle Bowl

My favorite part of the salad was the spicy bean sprouts. I bought something similar at the Chinese Market about a year ago for use in my own kitchen. I figured I loved spicy and I loved bean sprouts. They were awful. They tasted processed and made me sick. I cringed when I saw them at Sate because they reminded me of that sickness. But I was a trooper and gave them a go. Sate’s were SO different. They were freshly made, there was no processed taste or MSG floating around. It would’ve been so easy to take them from a can and call it a day but Sate goes that extra step to make sure their food is as flavorful as it can be. I almost went and asked for another side bowl of them to punctuate the meal but the baby started stirring so we had to duck out quickly.

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Our add-ons (the spicy bean sprouts and cilantro)

The noodles and bowl were great and all but through and through I am a sandwich guy. Just as long as the sandwich is good. I guess I’d be more like a “craft sandwich” guy. When I found out a few years back that Asian cuisine had a sandwich called a Banh Mi, I literally cried. It was the one style of food that had never been able to fulfill my craft sandwich addiction. Sate’s Banh Mi begins with a fresh baguette that Tai toasted in their mini toaster oven. He then layered it with tofu cubes. I added on daikon, spicy sprouts, charred corn, onions and peppers and sesame seeds. As a sauce I chose the BBQ glaze. Tai, ever so smart, gave me the glaze on the side. I, ever so not smart, immediately poured it over my entire sandwich. The result was a beautiful, flavorful, sandwich, that fell apart halfway through. Take my advice, dip it. Taste wise, I loved the kick of pickled vegetables, subtle sweetness of the tofu, the slight saltiness of the BBQ sauce and the spiciness of the bean sprouts. It is, hands down, one of the best sandwiches I’ve had recently.

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My Banh Mi

So what does great fresh tasting food like this cost you? A measly six dollars and fifteen cents for a tofu bowl. The Banh Mi is less, clocking in at only five dollars and change. Easily affordable and filling. Amazing quality at a low price. The best part is Sate’s fare won’t leave you feeling as heavy and sedated as other meals do. I left light and airy, ready to tackle whatever challenges the new baby offered me.

Sate also offers drinks like fresh lemonade, Thai Iced Tea and Thai Coffee. I’m a water fan, so I didn’t try any of those. They also have a dessert menu of coconut ice cream and something called Panana Cotta. I passed on both of these as I wanted the Banh Mi to linger a bit longer (as in all afternoon).

If you are an Asian food fan, I implore you to go here and give it a try. See if it works for you. And with all the customizations available, I don’t see how it couldn’t.

Sate Southeast Asian Grill on Urbanspoon

Sate Southeast Asian Grill on Foodio54

Playing in the background during our meal was an indie rock station. So naturally I would pair my visit to Sate with something that is radio friendly indie rock. I think the perfect pairing would be The Divers “They Way You Are.” There is nothing glamorous or groundbreaking here. Just straightforward indie rock. But it is the kind of song that will resonate with you throughout the day because of its easy to sing-a-long to chorus.

Just the other day I was driving home from walking my friend’s dog and I played the Delta Mirror’sHe was worse than the needle he gave you.” At some point, probably while I was chanting “that don’t bother me”, I thought what happened to these guys? Are they still a band? Will they be putting out new music anytime soon? I mean I really like this song. Turns out they are still a band and they have just put out new music. Here is the new track “Undeveloped Unreturned.” A bit more upbeat than some of my favorites from their previous album. Maybe they’ve turned the downers upside down? We’ll have to wait and see.

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