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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Appetite Multiplier: Generous bowls of soup and fresh spring rolls start the serious business of eating at Sabieng.

Restaurant Review: Sabieng Thai

Who knew Thai wonton soup was so good?

By Denise Vivar

The pox is back. At least that's what we call it in our office, and perhaps you too have waged a battle against the seasonal tide of respiratory ailments already cresting in our midst. While I declared my refusal to succumb to its greedy viral grip, I haven't exactly been proactive in my defense. My big gesture (aside from my official proclamation) was to set an herbal wellness remedy on my desk in the hope that it fortified my immune system by some osmotic force. I really hate those big pills.What I've wanted is a replacement for the remedy that for years was my talisman against every ailment coming around the bend—a wonton soup whose magic bullet was in the broth. It was at once soothing and powerful; the very heat of it seemed to sear anything in its path, and like magic, all trace of invasion often vanished within hours. The restaurant that provided my ammo is gone, and with it my best comrade in the fight. But no sooner had I bemoaned the loss to my assistant Craig than I discovered its possible reincarnation at Sabieng Thai restaurant.

My friend Rita and I stopped in for lunch and were dutifully handed lunch menus—great deals on a modest set of rice or noodle dishes with soup plus a selection of appetizers for an additional small charge. We eschewed the constraints of the amended list and asked for the regular menu instead.

I very nearly ordered my usual tom kha soup, a spicy and sour lemon-grass-with-galangal-root concoction, but spontaneously switched to the giew num, a Thai-style wonton soup ($4.40 cup) that I have never tried. The soup was delivered to the table with our appetizer of tod mun kao pod, or deep-fried corn cakes ($6.45).

Bits of garlic, cilantro and green onion floated in a dark aromatic brew with wonton clouds, baby bok choy and basil leaves. A stir of the spoon revealed slices of barbecued pork. The broth was just salty enough and ever so slightly sweet. I liked the taste as well as the feel of the wontons in the mouth—dollops of ginger-seasoned ground pork in petite pillows of smooth egg noodle, just the perfect size. The bok choy stayed tender crisp in its broth, which was hot, though a wee bit hotter would have been perfection. I relinquished the bowl and ventured to the rest of our meal, which had now been brought en masse to the table.

The corn cakes were an interesting juxtaposition of chewy corn texture with a popcorn flavor. I could almost imagine this as a nifty Thai theater treat. The corn was laced with just enough flour and egg batter to hold the kernels together and give it a slight crunch and was accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce, which I imagine would make a sticky mess in a darkened theater but by the light of day made for a tasty relish over the nutty cake.

For a vegetable dish we chose the pad ma kuer ($7.75), or No. 411. As is common on Thai menus, all the dishes are numbered—a convenience for the staff as well as the linguistically challenged patron. Eggplant is the main player in this dish, with sweet red pepper, tofu, green and yellow onion, basil and garlic bringing it all together in a sweet bean sauce. Over rice this is a staple Thai dish not to be overlooked, and it is also offered with the lunch specials so you can't miss it.

The mee pad ($7.75), or Thai-style chow mein, seemed every bit like classic Chinese chow mein with its pan-fried noodles, egg, bean sprouts, cabbage, onions, carrot, bok choy and tofu. I didn't care for the garlicky aftertaste, but surprisingly my garlic-sensitive friend Rita was not in the least troubled by it.

By now I was too full to consider returning to my elixir of broth and wontons, but I toted the leftover soup home, triumphant that I have found at least a great wonton soup, if not the next new cure-all. Additional bowls will be needed this winter to test its efficacy. So far I can report that I enjoyed the "booster" bowl the following day, and as of this writing I remain pox-free.

Sabieng Thai

Address: 1218 Mission St., Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.425.1020

Hours: Open daily 11:30am-3pm; 5-9:30pm Mon-Thu; 5-10pm Fri; 3-10pm Sat-Sun

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