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Sabai Sabai’s Jeff Regular (left), chef Nuit Regular and co-owners, Jason Jiang and Seng Luong.
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Nuit Regular preps The Red Flame Morning Glory Stir Fry.
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Mock Fish in Curry Sauce
SABAI SABAI (225 Church, at Dundas East, 647-748-4225, sabaisabaito.ca) Complete dinners for $30 per person (lunches $20), including tax, tip and a mock cocktail. Average tapas $7/lunch mains $12. Open for lunch daily 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, dinner nightly 5:30 to 11 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Nuit and Jeff Regular have a lot on their plate.
After walking away from their wildly popular Khao San Road on Adelaide West, the couple recently launched their second Sukhothai on Wellington East, the tiny original on Parliament temporarily shuttered for a much-needed makeover.
And if that isn't enough drama, the Regulars have just launched Sabai Sabai, a self-described Thai tapas bar, in partnership with long-time customers Jason Jiang and Seng Luong. Naturally, the seemingly tireless Nuit is in charge of the kitchen, but this time out she's made a few subtle changes.
Gone are the spicing options. Whereas you could once order everything medium, spicy, Thai spicy or - as I once foolishly did - extra Thai spicy, at Sabai it all comes mild. That's the way it should be, our servers explain, although they will give you the house's incendiary chili oil on the side if you insist.
At lunch, we get familiar mains like chef's incomparable Khao Soi egg noodles with shredded chicken breast in rich coconut gravy lashed with lime ($13), and gingery Massaman curry thick with braised flat-iron steak ($9 with rice).
Among the newbies, slices of lean pork are offset with sweet chili sauce and sour papaya salad, while the spicy beef soup with rice noodles plays against lime and crushed peanuts (both $12). Note the absence of pad thai.
At dinner, an opening salvo of mock mojitos with muddled kaffir lime and too much ice ($4/$7 with rum) sets the scene for Sabai's tapas lineup, shareable snack-sized plates like crisply char-grilled chicken wings ($6) and stir-fried shell-on shrimp anointed with holy basil. And while vegan faux fish in tart red curry could fool most pescophiles, the chef's beautifully steamed catfish custard splashed with coconut cream could pass for a Thanksgiving pumpkin mousse.
More of that white basa catfish shows up lightly battered and sauced in a sugary tamarind reduction (all $7) alongside skewers of tender pork loin sided with a bowl of vinegary northern Thai nam chim dip.
Those who feel that a meal isn't complete without a mess o' carbs will appreciate chef's cold chicken noodle salad dressed with toasted smoky rice powder ($6/$8 lunch as a main).
And since the wonderfully laid-back Sabai doesn't yet offer dessert, we end up back where we started with a tapas-sized version of La Regular's Khao Soi ($7) dressed with fresh coriander and retro Chinese-style fried noodles.
Who needs the customary sweet finish when her dazzling carte already hits most of those deliciously layered notes?