First time I came to Sabai Sabai, I was not prudent enough to make a reservation. Reading from reviews before mine, I thought it was casual enough to get a table walking in. Unfortunately, I chose a night where the restaurant closed its doors for walk-ins as they were hosting a private function. Big disappointment that night. But not big enough for me not to go back. I have once enjoyed Chef Nuit’s cuisine at Khao San Road and I knew it was worth the second try. Last Monday I was back with my friend Jojo. This time I was prudent enough to ask for a reservation. I don’t think I would be able to erase my pout should I be turned away again.
Walking in, the restaurant was just opening its doors for the dinner crowd. We were led by our friendly server Chris to the back, just right after the half-wall partition. Jojo took note of the accessories on the sill, sticky rice steamers adorned the shelf. We were later told by Chris that it was still what they used to steam their sticky rice. It was good to note that the servers were knowledgeable with the culture of the cuisine. It sure did help enhance the experience of getting to know a different take on Thai cuisine. Nowhere in the menu was the stereotype pad thai.
As Sabai Sabai was set-up for sharing plates, Jojo and I decided on four dishes and side servings of steamed brown rice. We chose crispy shrimp chips with sweet and savoury tamarind dip, shrimp in house-made panang curry, crispy fried fish with sweet and tangy tamarind reduction and grilled northern Thai pork skewers. Each of the servings were ample enough to be shared by two people as it was portioned tapas style.
Just a few minutes after we gave our order, Chris comes back with a generous basket of shrimp chips. I find it rather addicting, although I don’t know whether it was the chip or the spicy sweet and savoury tamarind dip that kept me eating the chip. I broke the chip to smaller pieces just to be able to double dip. It was good too that Chris gave us more tamarind dip when we were close to cleaning our small bowl.
The fried fish and the shrimp panang curry followed suit. The fish was surely appetizing just to look at it as it was presented in a wood platter adorned with banana leaf and the shrimp was beautifully plated in a white bowl. The prettiest bowl though was the one they used to serve their brown rice. I wish it was something I can bring home and shoot. It extended a degree of coziness and comfort with its silent elegance. So you can imagine I went shoot, shoot and shoot some more. :)
What I love about Chef Nuit’s food was that it transported me back to my childhood. The sensibilities of combinations of flavours were familiar and the comfort it brings was very much appreciated. The fish was crispy as promised and the sweet fresh flavors shone through as there was just the right amount of breading to give it texture. The shrimp was pleasantly plump and juicy and the heat of the curry was a good curl of heat, lasting through your palette without burning.
When we finished the first dishes, Chris came back with the pork skewers and this one can give my Yaya Pina (our cook in Manila) a run for her money for its flavor. It was moist, it was flavourful and with the side dip that was vinegary was just as addicting as the first three tapas that we have already enjoyed. Four for four. Quite exemplary batting average!
As Chris was cleaning our table of empty dishes, he suggested that we try their dessert of the week. Apparently, they feature only one dessert and they rotate it now and then. This week what they were featuring was sticky rice cooked with coconut milk and topped with half a slice of mango. With their batting average soaring on high, we decided the dessert should be a good finish. When it arrived, Jojo and I realized it was almost the same as our Mangga and Suman (Manggo and Rice Cake). I used to eat the same thing during summer vacation at my grandparent’s home. Suffice it to say, the plate was cleaned out too. Batting average surely was a good finish.
I was sure glad that I got over my first disappointment. It would have been wrong not to come back and enjoy Chef Nuit’s Thai cuisine. That degree of authenticity was worth coming back for.