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Apr 8, 2010 08:13 AM

Sabai Sabai Simply Thai - Report

In Germantown, this elegant Thai place makes some very exacting food - much of it not spicy - that ranges from exquisite to mediocre. In most case you are expected to add the heat, if you like, from a condiment tray at the table.

Two dishes showcased the enormous talents of the restaurant: the lahb (minced chicken appetitizer served room temperature) and the Pad Kra Pow - we ordered this with minced pork. The lahb was by far the best I've had; the chicken was slightly browned and took on a delicate charred taste. Great delicate spicing on the minced pork dish as well. Also had a decidedly un-Thai dish of corn cakes (very delicious).

Crying Tiger: the marinated steak here is unexciting by itself, but comes with a spicy peanut sauce on the side, not too much heat. Very tasty and well made. Not a 'liquid peanut butter' sauce, but made with some crushed peanuts.

Street Style Grilled Pork: what you'd expect, a really good 'meat-on-a-stick' dish.

Sizzling Mussels: really nice rendition of this dish, the mussels are made into finely crisped egg pancakes.

Green Curry: we're starting to get into the bland stuff here. Creamy with coconut milk and timid.

Spicy Sour Curry: very disappointing. A misnomer.

Floating Market Noodle Soup: Pretty bad. No heat. Made with some kind of mature, seasoned vinegar (think balsamic) that gave it an odd flavor.

Many good-sounding dishes on the menu. Maybe stay away from the curries? Will go back.

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  1. Boyfriend enjoyed the jungle curry when we went; I had the crispy three layer pork. It was good, if VERY rich (it's sliced pork belly) and pretty salty. The jungle curry was very spicy but (in my opinion) not much else. If there's going to be heat, I want some flavor with it.

    I think I'm going to go there again tomorrow night.

    1. Made our first trip there last Saturday. We had some hits and some misses. The best dish we had was the Crispy Herbal Fish -- really tasty and not at all greasy despite being fried. Also a hit were the Shrimp Cakes. We also had the Corn Cakes -- my husband really liked them, I liked them less. Also a favorite was the Chili Basil Eggplant -- sauteed eggplant in Kra Pow sauce -- this was an attractive and delicious dish. Among the not so greats -- the worst dish in my opinion was the chive dumplings -- completely tasteless and overwhelmed by the soy sauce accompaniment -- I should note that we got them steamed, maybe they're better fried. Also agree with Reiflame re: the Jungle Curry which we had with chicken -- it lives up to its 2 Chili Pepper designation on the menu -- it's got plenty of heat -- and that's about all. Also, it was described as containing a variety of vegetables -- the only one I could discern were pieces of Thai eggplant. Overall, that dish was a complete mess. Even though we didn't love everything, we liked enough of it quite a bit and are looking forward to trying more menu items.

      1. My two cents on the sabai sabai outing with Steve and others after much reflection....

        First off...I had high expectations after Kliman of the Washingtonian called it easily the #1 Thai in the area at the moment.

        Now, one visit isn't enough to pass total judgement obviously, but there are some things you can tell about a place. I think Sabai Sabai clearly uses ingredients that are a notch fresher than most of the competition. I think there is considerable skill and care in the kitchen, as evidenced by the fact that the proteins weren't dried out in the curry or ka prao or street grilled pork and the dipping sauces were very fresh and bright.

        That being said...

        The only dishes we ordered that I'd get again are the ka prao, the lahb (usually spelled lab or laab), and the grilled pork. The ka prao was a really nice rendition, lacking only heat. I'll ask for it really, really spicy next time. In fact it was downright timid, but the flavors were still really nice. The lahb, as Steve says, was just really good and addictive. The pork was a good sweet grilled meat dish with a nice glaze.

        I'm not so sure about there being peanut in the Crying Tiger dipping sauce. I think the sauce was some kind of roasted chili powder or chili product, lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce with maybe a few other things thrown in there, but I could be wrong. That dish was fine but I wouldnt get it again. The corn cakes were also fine but I wouldnt get them either.

        I didnt care for the spicy sour curry, mussels, green curry, or floating market noodle soup. None had the punch that I expected. The green curry, with its oil floating on top, suggesting that the paste was fried slowly until the oil floated free, was surprisingly bland.

        So, in my estimation we went 1 for 4 on Items listed under the Very Thai Street Fare section of the menu (which were the street pork, the soup, the spicy sour curry, and the mussels). I think that the street menu is more of a gimmick than anything else.

        Considering that the lahb and ka prao were standouts, I'd be more inclined on my next visit to focus on salad-like entities and some stir fries, and maybe try one more curry.

        Oh, and the mango with sticky rice was very, very good.

        I think a future trip will include more familiar dishes, which this kitchen seems like it may do a little better than run-of-the-mill places. I'm already circling menu items....yum mushrooms, yum duck, nam tok, kanom jeeb, spicy catfish with chili paste, drunken noodles, roast duck red curry, penang curry, crispy herbal fish, tom kha gai, gai yang with papaya salad.

        The only "different" dishes that we didnt get to try that still intrigue me are the Thai minced pork omelette, the kao mun gai (chicken rice), and the kao kha moo (braised pork leg with pickled lettuce). Though I wouldnt expect any of those to be very spicy. They just sound interesting.

        8 Replies
        1. re: CoconutMilk

          I'm up for another trip in the future =)

          1. re: helenahimm

            I tried the crying tiger and the meat was wan colored, almost steamed, not grilled, but the spicy sauce was astoundingly hot AND delicious. The fried chicken wings from the street menu, the fried tofu were just so so and the fourth dish was so forgettable that I don't remember what it was. The service seemed to be in overwhelm, like the business of the place hit them like a ton of bricks. If I live closer, I would keep an eye on them because there is potential there. As it is, it is a long trip for me, so I will wait till I hear better reports from those whose taste in Asian foods I trust start giving it thumbs up. But the potential is definitely there!

            1. re: fudizgud

              Like many (if not all) places, ordering right is the key. If you go for the lahb and the minced pork pad kra pow, you will be impressed. Maybe the best Thai food around for those dishes.

              1. re: Steve

                Actually checking on the receipt, the larb was dish number 4. Ironic.

                I just think the hubub over it has them off their best game right now, and driving over an hour to go is more than we will do now, but we will be back. Especially if in the general area for other reasons. The ingredienst are better than you get at a lot of Thai places and the sauce on the crying tiger speaks of some true skill in the kitchen!

          2. re: CoconutMilk

            Thanks for your insight. I thought I tasted peanut in the profile of the Crying Tiger Sauce. Very tasty despite the fact that it didn't make me cry.

            1. re: Steve

              I really liked the minced ka prao at Sabai Sabai. But I'm not sure that Bangkok 54 Market's version isnt better. Its in a plastic container with the other lunch offerings (though they don't have it every time I go) with tons of rice and a fried egg and it is much, much spicier than Sabai Sabai's. Perhaps a Sabai Sabai version ordered "very spicy" would supplant it though. I think Bangkok 54 Market's costs about $6.50.

              The pork with chili paste and kaffir lime is also good and spicy. The chive dumplings are good as well. There's alot of scary stuff at the market but plenty to like. Every time I go to the market there are Thai people picking up the pre-made lunch stuff and there is always something new. I think it warrants weekly exploration.

              1. re: CoconutMilk

                I was just at the Bangkok 54 Market today and noticed the prepared pad kra pow. Looked good, fried egg and all. Will have to get that next time.

                Bangkok 54
                2927 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA

                1. re: Steve

                  I will second the Ka Prao at BKK54's Market. It isn't there all the time, but the one I got with the fried egg really took me back to Ram Buttri, very good.
                  The Market squid is hit or miss, I have had it twice and one was outstanding and the other was only ok. The sticky rice that I get with the squid was ok, not great.

          3. I had a chance to visit Sabai Sabai this week for 1 meal while passing through Germantown on business. My first impression is that this is a good solid Thai restaurant. My entree was the Floating Market Noodle Soup you mentioned, which was surprisingly similar to what I've had at night markets in Thailand. If you don't like this, it might just be that you don't like this entree in general. In general the street food portion of the menu looked most attractive simply because those dishes are hard to find elsewhere in my experience. I can get laab and curry anywhere, but kao kha moo isn't something I see everyday. For dessert, try their Taro dessert with their own coconut ice cream. The ice cream was fantastic.

            1 Reply
            1. re: PlateCleaner

              I love FMNS, but this was the strangest version I've been served. Maybe it was an anomaly. The best version I've had was from Nava Thai before they moved. I hear it is no longer the same. Another great version is served at the Songkran Festival in at the Thai Wat on Layhill Rd.

              I just came back from Ruan Thai, the first time I've been in a while. This is still my favorite Thai food in the area. Especially the boneless duck dish, #62 on their new menu. The eggplant appetizer, the bean thread casserole, and the fried watercress combine to make quite a meal.

              Ruan Thai Restaurant
              11407 Amherst Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20902

              Nava Thai Restaurant
              11315 Fern St, Silver Spring, MD 20902