Fans want Sabai Dee to outlast recession


POSTED: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Those who travel with packs to frequent the hottest places in town have reason to wonder what I'm talking about when I say that many more restaurants are more typically empty than full. But that's the reality, and I hear it in the tone of desperate e-mails, not from the restaurateurs, but from fans hoping to get the word out so their favorites can remain open.




Sabai Dee


        2633 S. King St. » 955-3825

Food: ;*;*;*


Service: ;*;*;*;*


Ambience: ;*;*;*


Value: ;*;*;*1/2


Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays Cost: About $25 to $30 for dinner for two


Note: Validated parking at University Square


Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good; exceeds expectations
        ;*;* - average
        ;* - below average.


A couple of readers pointed me toward Sabai Dee, one writing, “;At the expense of not getting a table and the perfect service I am urging you to review these guys before they go out of business. The food makes me homesick for Thailand and I ain't even Thai!”;

OK, first of all, Sabai Dee opened just 2 1/2 months ago, barely enough time to even consider calling it quits. But I get the hysteria. Odds do not favor newbies in a time when older, seemingly stable businesses have already folded or are in bankruptcy. There are always exceptions, of course, those restaurants that embody a particular “;Zeitgeist”; and swoop in to become immediate public and media darlings.

Most restaurants are not like that. Sabai Dee is neither novel in cuisine nor concept, but it's a restaurant that offers a pleasant experience from beginning to end, and a strong addition to the Moiliili neighborhood.

Sabai Dee took over the space of a longtime neighborhood institution, India House, and with the community's blessing might enjoy a similarly long tenure. The restaurant has all the right ingredients, and according to its fans, all it needs now is more customers.

Sabai Dee opens a half-hour before most restaurants, at the very early-bird hour of 4:30 p.m. The stereotype is that early-bird hours are for retirees on a tight budget, but these days, who's not on a budget? The early-bird menu is nearly as extensive as the full menu (available simultaneously) with prices about $1.50 to $2 less than after 6 p.m. It doesn't sound like much, but spread over four courses or more, it adds up.

By day they offer a four-course lunch special for $8.95, with a salad, drink, entree and dessert.

The restaurant's strength is its thick, savory coconut curries, such as a rich green curry with basil, eggplant and the meat of your choice ($8.50 with chicken, beef or pork, $9.95 with shrimp; early bird $6.75 and $7.95, respectively) and Evil Angel Red Curry that blankets a bed of cabbage. Hot or mild, the saturated flavors guarantee this is not a place for those who like their food tame. Those who foods spicy will spot the slices of heat-packing Thai chilies that stud the dish.

The tamest it gets is with an appetizer of basic fried chicken served with a sweet chili sauce ($8.50, $6.95 early bird).

I skipped the usual spring roll appetizer ($7.95, $5.95 early bird) in favor of deep-fried fishcake ($8.50) that was more rubbery than most. I also didn't care for the larb ($8.50, $6.75 early bird), the ground beef salad made drier with toasted rice powder.

After this detour, we were back on track with a dish of stir-fried chicken and cashews ($8.50, $6.75 early bird), and spicy eggplant ($8.50 with chicken, beef or pork, $9.95 with shrimp; early bird $6.75 and $7.95, respectively). The eggplant is sliced thin on a diagonal, the better for soaking in the flavors of basil and peppers.

Dessert choices include the familiar tapioca pudding with banana ($2.95, $1.95 early bird) and sweet sticky rice with mango ice cream. You can get those anywhere, so I opted for the deep-fried banana with vanilla ice cream. The banana is served lumpia style in a crunchy wrapper, sliced and layered with one scoop of ice cream for a cool, crunchy treat. You'll find it's best to get your own rather than share.

Nadine Kam's restaurant review appears every Wednesday in the Star-Bulletin. Restaurants are reviewed anonymously. Meals are paid by the Star-Bulletin.