Monday, 7 September 2009

Discovering a Little Out-of-the-Way Place for Tropical Dining

Hot and humud summer weather, though late in coming, has finally arrived in Manitoba, which for one thing gave me a good excuse to make some homemade lime soda. On my Labour Day weekend daytrip to Winnipeg I thought it was a good time to get my craving for Thai food satisfied, so, armed with the latest edition of TASTE Destination Winnipeg's Culinary Guide, I decided to try a new place called Sabai Thai Eatery. Unlike other places I've tried in Winnipeg to date, this restaurant is not located in a commercial area and/or amongst other restaurants. In fact, this is about two blocks west of the Little Italy commercial area and is essentially in a residential neighbourhood.

The exterior of the building may not speak much on behalf of the restaurant, but inside the restaurant it is contemporary and stylishly simple in its decor. The menu is limited to two full 8.5 x 11 pages of food items, but if quantity is sacrified to ensure quality (and the selection is fairly decent), then I have no qualms about it.

At my server's suggestion I tried the green papaya salad, a fresh, clean and zesty start to my dinner. Shredded green (or unripened) papaya has a much crunchier texture (not quite like carrots, but close) compared to ripe papaya, and green papaya shreds look translucent, reminiscent to mung bean (or glass) vermicelli. The salad dressing certainly had a zest that can fuel an appetite, but it also had quite a spicy kick to it. The ground dried shrimp helped balance the main flavours of Thai cuisine (salty, sweet, spicy and sour) in this one dish. It was a delight to eat.

For my main course I went for an old standby that I knew each restaurant would tinker slightly to make the dish its own, the pad thai; my penchant for noodles also helped influence my choice in my main course. Though to my relief this dish was milder on the spiciness factor compared to the green papaya salad, one thing that caught my eye was that it was darker than other pad thais I've had, hinting at me the presence of dark soy sauce, an ingredient not typically found in traditional versions in this dish. Aside from that anomaly, the flavouring of the dish was alright, and the chicken pieces, though fully cooked, were still tender to the bite without a heavy grease factor. Though the presence of ground dried shrimp added another dimension of flavour to this dish, considering how this dish was comparatively on the saltier side of the balance of flavours in the end it may have been unecessary. Don't be frightened by the dried pepper flakes; compared to the green papaya salad, the spiciness factor was virtually non-existent amongst those pepper flakes.

Dessert was limited to two choices, including a deep fried banana. Being not in the mood for either item after my meal, I opted to just go for some tea, fo which this place offered four varieties of specialty teas. Unfortunately the restaurant was out of my first choice, one where the tea leaf bundles appear to blossom into flowers when immersed in hot water, so I opted instead for the Dragonheart, a blended tea based on the Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) white tea, a tea in itself with a fruity aroma compared to most other teas.

If you're looking for simple Thai food, this restaurant in a quieter corner of an older residential neighbourhood offers a nice take in a cozy setting. Should I return again, I might have to try a dish marrying Manitoba food with Thai cuisine involving pickerel cheeks; that and a few other dishes on the menu did look tempting, but a major drawback to dining alone is that it's hard to try several dishes compared to dining with a few people together.

Name: Sabai Thai Eatery
Address: 113 Corydon Ave., Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: Thai
Price Range: Dinner $20-$40
Accessible: Yes

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