Saturday, December 16, 2017
Restaurant News

Review: In crowded Thai field, Sabai a contender

SAFETY HARBOR

The "Thai-ed" is rising in Pinellas County, and Suda Deowpawaropas has a lot to do with it. She's an owner of the King and I and Chiang Mai in St. Petersburg, and in October she launched Sabai at the border of Safety Harbor and Clearwater. It's a bold move in a way: Ban Thai and Thai Spice across the street are the 900-pound gorillas among Thai restaurants in this area. Sabai also offers a sushi menu — going head to head with the established Ocean Blue Sushi, also just across the way. The question then becomes, is there room for another one? Sabai is doing lots of things right. It's a bright, sprightly place in shades of new-grass-green, with manager Whan Ponttush a lovely presence in the dining room. The sushi menu leans heavily to the familiar, with not a ton of signature rolls. Sushi presentations are tidy and straightforward, on simple white square platters. The kitchen goes light on the volcano and eel sauces (a plus in my book).

Still, the sushi isn't dramatic or unique enough to generate droves of fans. The Thai food is more apt to accomplish that, with a vibrancy and verve that puts it pretty high up in Pinellas County's Thai offerings. You have seen this menu before: red, yellow, green, panang and jungle curries; pad Thai and fat, slithery pad se-ew; fresh rolls and spring rolls. But it's the grace with which these are accomplished, paired with a short list of house specialties, that elevates Sabai (a Thai word that translates roughly as "happy" or "comfortable").

One night, we ordered a specialty of tempura eggplant ($11.95). Simple enough, but, wow, was it good. Rounds of eggplant thickly battered and fried crunchy, on a bed of still-crisp mixed veggies, all of it paired with a generous tub of coconut-tinged peanut sauce, not too sweet. Dipped or poured, the sauce brought the elements together lusciously.

A textbook pad se-ew with tofu ($8.95) featured spongy fried cubes hiding amongst the wide rice noodles glistening with a sweet-savory black bean sauce, fluffs of egg and mini florets of broccoli lending texture and depth.

A duo of fresh rolls ($4.95) seemed fairly pedestrian, with planks of fake crab dominating the more delicate flavors of shrimp, rice noodles and bean sprouts, but the house chicken satay ($5.95) were delicious enough with their smoky, coconut curry marinade that they didn't strictly need the ramekins of peanut sauce and sweet, quickly pickled cukes, but we scooped it all up avidly nonetheless.

Lime juice, lemongrass and chili paste dominate on a variety of snappy salads, from the crunchy shreds of green papaya ($5.95) with a flurry of chopped peanuts and lengths of green beans, to the larb (chicken or pork, $7.95), a texturally interesting dish that pairs ground meat in a lime-forward salad with ground roasted rice and wisps of red onion and cilantro. This whole section of the menu is refreshing and punchy.

As with most Thai restaurants in these parts, the beer and wine list is small and modestly priced, the Thai iced tea and coffee the more interesting beverage route. And for dessert, coconut ice cream with battered fried bananas is the standout, the lush cold creaminess the perfect foil for crunchy hot banana discs.

Okay, you're going to see a lot of similar menu items at nearby Ban Thai and Thai Spice, or even at Deowpawaropas' other properties. It's a "greatest hits" approach that offers a lot of crowd pleasers, but in this case it's served graciously and in a setting that embodies the definition of "sabai."

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

 
Comments
Ranking America’s top 10 chain restaurants. How does your favorite stack up

Ranking America’s top 10 chain restaurants. How does your favorite stack up

People love to pick on chain restaurants. Like used car salesmen, the mass feeders are easy targets. Their uniformity and ubiquity seem to go against a culture increasingly bent on personal customization. Indeed, it has been a rough past few years f...
Published: 12/15/17
Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Noel Cruz seemed remarkably chill. As did his partner Kerem Koca. All around them in the Station House building in St. Petersburg, workers pounded the last nails, bartenders unpacked boxes of glassware and jewel-toned bottles of Amari, and the kitche...
Published: 12/12/17
Restaurant review: Let the food and outstanding cocktails at CW’s Gin Joint transport you back to the 1920s

Restaurant review: Let the food and outstanding cocktails at CW’s Gin Joint transport you back to the 1920s

TAMPAMaybe it’s the twinkling chandeliers. All skajillion of them. Or maybe it is the rhythmic syncopation of ice cubes in shiny shakers. It could be the old-timey metal dessert cart with its silver cloches and chafing dishes, or else the chummy-but-...
Published: 12/11/17
Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

TAMPA Just a block away from CW’s Gin Joint, the folks at Urban Juice Co. have retooled, taking the historic Franklin building, one of the city’s oldest, erected in 1895, and re-envisioning it in September as 1895 Kitchen-Bar-Market, a "...
Published: 12/11/17
A vegan soul food eatery is opening in St. Petersburg

A vegan soul food eatery is opening in St. Petersburg

SOUL FOOD: VEGAN STYLERay Milton is a boxing instructor and former pastry chef and proprietor of Sugar Ray’s Bakery in St. Petersburg. In the past couple of years he has branched out with something entirely different. He runs a food truck that sells ...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Food news: Byblos reopens in South Tampa, Arab food festival this weekend

Food news: Byblos reopens in South Tampa, Arab food festival this weekend

REOPENING: BYBLOSYou know that hour before people show up for a dinner party where you think, "Holy smokes, I’ll never be ready in time. What was I thinking?" Nearly every restaurant opening, or reopening, is like that. I scooted by Byblos, a long-st...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
These Tampa Bay restaurants took honors in the Golden Spoon Awards

These Tampa Bay restaurants took honors in the Golden Spoon Awards

Florida Trend’s annual Golden Spoon awards were announced last week, honoring Florida’s best restaurants. Although Florida Trend serves the state’s business community, the Golden Spoons are a valuable consumer tool. Because Florida restaurants seldom...
Published: 12/04/17
Updated: 12/05/17
Free iced coffee Monday as Dunkin’ Donuts offers #CupOfThanksFlorida

Free iced coffee Monday as Dunkin’ Donuts offers #CupOfThanksFlorida

Dunkin’ Donuts is giving thanks to Floridians with a free small iced coffee on Monday.The #CupOfThanksFlorida promotion is aimed at thanking customers for weathering Hurricane Irma as some locations had to close or change their hours, according to br...
Published: 12/04/17
Restaurant review: Clear Sky on Cleveland Global Bistro tries to cover every food on the planet

Restaurant review: Clear Sky on Cleveland Global Bistro tries to cover every food on the planet

CLEARWATERAll three of the Clear Sky restaurants read like the work of someone who’s been paying attention to what folks want.Co-owner Dan Shouvlin has got the proper curriculum vitae (a background in TGI Friday’s, Chi Chi’s, Olive Garden and then a ...
Published: 11/30/17
Updated: 12/04/17
This week’s food news: Clearwater Beach Uncorked, happy 25th birthday to Guppy’s

This week’s food news: Clearwater Beach Uncorked, happy 25th birthday to Guppy’s

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: GUPPY’STwenty-five years for a restaurant is a stupendous achievement in an industry with a two-thirds failure rate. So let’s bake a cake for Guppy’s on the Beach, or at least go there and eat cake. It opened its doors at 1701 Gulf Bl...
Updated one month ago