Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, February 08, 2006
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Presentation is one of many reasons that Sabu Sabu shines.
Sabu Sabu
Chicken satay $4
Shrimp tempura $6
Chicken pad Thai $7
Sesame chicken $9
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Around the Eastern World

Sabu Sabu gets just about everything right in its inarguably hip, unfancy fancy spin on pan-Asian fare.

By ANTHONY MARIANI

Sabu Sabu

6115 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 112, FW. 817-737-2600. 11am-10pm daily. All major credit cards accepted. BYOB.

abu Sabu is a new pan-Asian eatery in a strip mall on Camp Bowie Boulevard near the Bryant Irvin Road intersection. Unlike its neighbors to either side — Café Aspen and Starbucks — the newcomer conveys its cosmopolitan élan rather effortlessly. Brought to you by the same worldly minds that created One Asia Bistro on South Hulen and Nine Pan-Asian Cuisine near Central Market, Sabu Sabu strikes the perfect, detached, minimalist chord, somewhere between trying and not trying at all. The space is just a big box, cavernous and wide open. Opposite the entrance, across a massive expanse of tables and chairs, is a sushi bar next to what appear to be the makings of a tiny bar bar. (Sabu Sabu’s liquor license is pending.) The lighting is dim, the furniture is a dark wood that seems to glow from the inside, and the walls are various shades of brown, gun-metal green, and burgundy. Global house music softly thumps, ping-pongs, and sisses over the speakers, and the menu is small and straightforward. The vibe is totally Hong Kong chic.

The food also gets points for its unpretentious-almost-to-the-point-of-pretentious quality. The most diverse section of the menu is the appetizers — and for good reason. The Vietnamese spring rolls had just the right balance of chewiness, squishiness, and ginger-fueled snap. Dipped in the accompanying spicy and syrupy peanut sauce, they burned and soothed the tastebuds at the same time. The shrimp tempura were long, curly, and meaty, and the thankfully light coating crackled with a slightly pastry-like sweetness. The vegetable tempura — yams, zucchini, and carrots — were flavorless, but they redeemed themselves by serving as crunchy yet chewy beds on which Sabu Sabu’s delicious garlic soy sauce could rest on en route to your greedy mouth. The juicy, narrow pieces of chicken breast on the satay are marinated in Thai barbecue sauce and come with that succulent peanut dipping stuff. The details are blurry, but the dish was probably awesome — the meat on those skewers disappeared in a hurry.

The number of preparation styles for entrées is minimal, and they all afford the choice of meat (beef, chicken, or pork), fish, or vegetable. Since Sabu Sabu’s Thai appetizers were such a hit, ordering a Thai main course was a no-brainer. The true measure of a Thai restaurant is in its most popular peasant dish, pad Thai, and Sabu Sabu’s chicken version — decent-sized chunks of bird, thin rice noodles, and bean sprouts in a chile tamarind sauce — was off the charts. As spicy and sweet duke it out on your tongue, your teeth sink into the thick, hearty, chewy noodles. There was one problem, however — the savage, disturbing cacophony of food being quickly slurped up.

Adding to Sabu Sabu’s unfancy fabulousness is the presentation. One item whose appearance somewhat eclipsed its gustatory value was the avocado roll. With a straight row of several small, connected rice beds beneath neat chunks of the titular ingredient, the dish looked like a large, light-green caterpillar. (Another sushi bar, maybe one more established and with plenty of devoted regulars, would have had a little fun with the culinary creature and plopped some fish-egg eyes on there or something.)

The Sabu Sabu experience is not perfect. One major disappointment was the sesame chicken, a standard dish that, for whatever reason, some pan-Asian restaurants personalize but should just leave alone. Like a hamburger and fries, an old standby like sesame chicken can be dolled up with only so many culinary accessories before it begins to look — and taste — like something else, like something less standard. Sabu Sabu had thrown into the simple mix of orange-flavored chicken with rice and sesame seeds: broccoli, Formosan vermicelli, and, buried beneath everything, plum sauce. Damn near tyrannical in its dominance over every other ingredient, the sauce looked like top soil after a good rain, pitch black and oily, and had the texture of jelly. The vermicelli were as superfluous as glass noodles, the chicken mushy, and, in a masterstroke of ineptitude, the broccoli was cold. Someone in the kitchen also forgot the sesame seeds! The dish was actually more edible the following day right out of the fridge, after the chicken had hardened and the rice had soaked up some of the plum sauce and tempered its vicious bite.

In the back of the room, behind the sushi bar and the bar bar, is a small lounge area under construction. The beautiful people who haunt Café Aspen and, across the street, the Ridglea and Vine Wine Room can be easily imagined hanging out here, tilting back bottles of sake, chatting, comparing new $200 stilettos, noshing on casually cool pan-Asian fare, and nodding along to the sounds of the latest hot Vietnamese rapper.


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