Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, Germantown, MD

(See the February 15th Review here.)

Oops.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, and proclaimed it “the best Thai meal I’ve had in years.” Well, of course I was going to go back; I only wish I hadn’t because this time around, it was stunningly mediocre.

Let’s start with the good: the “House” Sauvignon Blanc ($8) – whatever it may be – is the wine you should order. Varietally true, it has enough acidity on the finish to complement most dishes you’ll order here. Me, I got the Beer Lao ($4.95), brewed in Laos (not to state the obvious) which has enough malt in the nose to make it interesting.

I wanted to start with a couple mainstream appetizers this time around for a change of scenery: you’ll findĀ Tod Mun Goong ($8) at most Thai restaurants – they’re those round shrimp cakes with the texture of … cuttlefish? a sponge? sea cucumber? Yes, sea cucumber comes pretty close, and these were kneaded with chili paste and served with a cooling cucumber dipping sauce. It was a huge order of about eight of them, and they were not small. And they were also the highlight of the food by a long shot.

How can homemadeĀ Curry Puffs ($5.95), made with chicken, potatoes and Thai spices in a crisp pastry be anything but good? Somehow, these managed, and the overriding flavor was not curry, but something very sweet – I thought it might have been date, or fig, but I think my friend nailed it: bean paste, the type of flavor you’ll find in Korean or Vietnamese desserts, and it was not at all welcome here.

There was only room left in the tanks for one entree, so I went back to the tried and true. Crispy Herbal Fish ($15.95) was The Dish that I raved about in my previous review, but this time around? It was not only bad, but also unidentifiable as the same dish, much less coming from the same kitchen. The fish was over-battered, and crumbled rather than flaked when it was cut. The marinade (turmeric, lemongrass, garlic, and black pepper) was more of a sauce, and not evenly distributed at all. This really seemed to me like they may have mistakenly brought the Spicy Catfish dish by mistake (this really had more of a frozen catfish texture), but that dish had eggplant, and this had none; if this was fresh tilapia, it was a sickly school of fish.

Well, there you have it – life is not so cut and dry. If I had read my previous review, then went out of my way to go to Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, and had this meal, I would have been furious, and would have never trusted myself again. But I’m just calling ’em one at a time, as I see them, so I’ve had one unbelievably great meal here, and a second unbelievably mediocre meal here.

There’s a logical explanation for this: suburban ethnic restaurants often have one – and only one – great cook in the kitchen, and when that cook is off for the evening, it makes all the difference in the world. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but if it didn’t, then there’s a parallel universe that I’m unaware of. Very, very frustrating, and I apologize if I gave anyone a bum steer.

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