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March 06, 2012

Alice Eats: Sabai Sabai Thai Cuisine

IMG_360822 Merchants Row, Middlebury, 989-7376

In last week's paper, I checked in on the newly authentic Thai restaurant scene in the Burlington area. With the tastes of lime and chile still singing on my palate, I thought it was time to try Middlebury's latest addition, Sabai Sabai Thai Cuisine, which opened just before the New Year.

The space, previously home to Doria's Restaurant, is quirky and fun, with numerous nooks and crannies. I was seated in the window on a platform overlooking all the action below. From there, I could see the bustling bar with several local brews on tap, but I was there for the food.

IMG_3609I couldn't resist trying the Angel Wings. I hope the chicken that died to provide its two wings is indeed an angel now. While interesting, the dish was oddly conceived and not worth its surprisingly steep $8.

Each wing was boned, leaving only the tip as a handle. The meat was stuffed with ground chicken mixed with finely chopped veggies and a powerfully musky dose of fish sauce. On their own, the wings were a tad bland, but sweet chile sauce and vinegar dipping sauce helped.

A tangle of puffy fried vermicelli was pretty, but there was no good way to eat the long noodles. Even breaking them off and dipping wasn't satisfying enough to be worth the effort and mess.

IMG_3611The duck salad was easier to deal with, though also a little disappointing. While sufficiently fresh, the lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber that dominated were more coarsely chopped than I'm used to in Thai salads. The thick pieces weren't able to adequately absorb the lime-flavored dressing. Or perhaps the liquid wasn't as flavorful as it could have been.

Either way, the moist, tender chunks of duck breast were the dish's saving grace. Nonetheless, it wasn't worth $10. I could have sworn it was $5.50 when I saw it on the menu. That price would have been more appropriate for a salad this petite, despite the delectable duck.

IMG_3612But then, something wonderful happened: khao-soi. There were indeed more fried noodles, but these did something magical. Perched atop a bowl of decadently rich coconut broth spiked with chiles, the fried noodles slowly soaked up the liquid, maintaining just a hint of chewy stiffness.

Beneath the fried noodles was a good-sized pile of egg noodles mixed with red onion, chicken and pickled mustard greens. The latter lent the whole dish a slight tang, almost like a mustard cream sauce. The greens themselves were so vivid that they broke through the dish's comforting, creamy heat. This dish tasted truly fresh and new.

IMG_3614Given the full sushi menu, it seemed only right that I should try a roll. For a town that was previously sushi-less, the lava roll is quite a step up.

The maki was filled with avocado, cucumber and a very thin slice of gloriously red tuna. If it hadn't been covered in fish, the roll could have qualified as vegetarian. Once again, perhaps not the greatest value, but it was delicious. Spicy mayo and eel sauce (basically teriyaki sauce with a hint of eel extract) combined beautifully for a spicy, sweet, creamy dressing. The lingering hint of sesame at the end of each bite keep bringing me back for more. The rice was an ideal texture: glutinous but uncommonly fluffy.

The cooks at Sabai Sabai have a way with texture. And I'll be making my way back soon for som khao-soi and sushi.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to [email protected]

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