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Sabai Thai Bistro

Every so often, I need to be reminded why I like Thai food so much. It comes back to me at Sabai Thai Bistro when I taste what sounds like a dull dish: Hawaiian fried rice. Pineapple and fried rice? Boring. But the pineapple chunks are bit players in a bigger drama that includes cashews, curry, raisins, onion and egg over-laid with a complexity that makes Thai food soar.

WHAT'S RIGHT

This is a pretty place - posh almost. That's a real bonus at this price level. And the food fits nicely into the setting. I like the kick in the hot-and-sour tom yum shrimp soup and the balance of citrus and coconut in the chicken-coconut soup. Then, there's the oddly winsome crab roll made with tofu skin and resembling Chinese shrimp toast.

We order vegetable pad thai because of a vegetarian in our party. It's subtly smoky, a standout. So, too, is a haunting Panang curry, ordered with imitation duck; I love the curry but would prefer real poultry. Vibrancy underscores a green curry made with bona-fide chicken; an interplay of fruity-sweet and spicy-hot lifts a chicken and mango curry. Most impressive are fresh soft-shell crabs with basil in a vegetable-chile sauce; dynamite stuff.

For dessert, mango with sticky rice features ripe, sweet fruit. And somehow, the weird-looking custard with black rice works.

NEEDS TWEAKING

Thai dumplings aren't bad; they're just uninteresting. And crispy tofu salad is diminished by iceberg lettuce.

It's the service, though, that's lagging. Our waiter is hard to find when we want to order and, later on, get the check. Yet, he brings our second course before we finish the first.

BOTTOM LINE

So often, when you say you want food spicy, what comes back is timid. Here, the kitchen takes you at your word. In suburbia, where ethnic chefs often pander to what they perceive as American taste, that counts big time.

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