Sabina, matron and namesake for the small strip-mall restaurant on Vine street, cuts a motherly figure. Even if you can’t claim any Eastern European heritage (though many patrons certainly do), she welcomes you will a with the unhurried and deliberate service of a woman who proudly serves a good home-cooked meal. She is not the kind of owner who delivers a forced smile or hangs on your every need, instead her only concern seems to be that you leave nourished with a belly full of hot food. The tiny dining room is filled with red pastel tables and chairs chipped from decades of use. The crimson colored cloth napkins are threadbare and musty, giving a sense of continuing tradition as you tuck them into your lap. Sabina hails from Romania, which can be discerned from either a glance at the travel agency photos of rustic countryside lining the walls or the short and hearty menu filled with Austro-Hungarian classics. Most customers at lunch, whether they be Hispanic foremen or chain-smoking Russian club promoters, order the Pork Schnitzel. It’s a solid choice, as the plate arrives with a large scoop of mashed potatoes and two crispy breaded pork chops that have been pounded flat and fried until they’re the size of frisbees. Each customer then promptly tops them with the preferred ethnic condiment of peppery salsa, BBQ sauce or spicy mustard from bottles that line the counter. Though Sabina may tell you she loves all the dishes equally, it’s no secret here that the real home-style gems here are found further down the menu. For a mere $2.50 order a bowl of Burta, sour tripe soup: deep red in color, seasoned with dill and vinegar. The soup is thick with chunks of tripe as tender as those you’ll find in East LA’s best menudo shops. A large basket of soft white bread and a plate of sour cream will arrive soon after. Use them liberally. The sour cream is rich and fresh, and is best when stirred into the soup until it melts into white flecks.
All entrée’s at Sabina’s are $5.75, a price even more astounding when you consider the portions could easily feed Pau Gasol, should he ever crave a taste of the sub-continent, and still send him to practice with a doggie bag. Two of the best are the Chicken Paprika with Dumplings and the Stuffed Cabbage, both fine examples of what comfort food should be. The Stuffed Cabbage in particular has manage to stick in my head: ground pork and rice seasoned with more dill, wrapped in cabbage leaves and then simmered in a rich tomato broth until the cabbage has become flavorful and yielding. Once it arrives, a further spoonful of the ubiquitous sour cream and a slice of bread to soak up the garlicky juices completes this peasant’s feast. But Sabina is not done yet, for a mere $1.75 more you can finish with a plate of two thick sugar-dusted crepes, which are more akin to the Danish style than the delicate French variety. If your really sharp you’ll order one filled with tart cherry jam and one with cream cheese and end up with a dessert that tastes as elegant as something that would cost 5 times as much in Santa Monica.
In total, a 3-course meal that would usually be more appropriate for those working a full day of plowing or ox herding will cost you only $10; and perhaps your productivity for the rest of the day. How Sabina is able to offer such is able to offer simply prepared and authentic meals at such a minimal price is something that still amazes me, although I’m guessing it involves same maternal instincts that ensure you never leave your grandmother’s house unfed.
Sabina’s European Restaurant
1253 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90038
$ – Cash Only