Monday, September 19, 2011

Thai Flavor in Madison - Sa-Bai Thong Thai Cuisine

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Mieng Sabai
A lettuce wrap appetizer different from what you would normally see: served with shrimp, chicken, vermicelli noodle, fresh ginger, peanut, onion, lime, wrapped with green leaf lettuce with special house sauce on the side; this lettuce wrap gives a variety of flavor and texture.  You get a nice clean flavor from the vermicelli noodles that cradle the zesty bitter flavor from the lime and the sweetness from the house sauce.  The raw ginger and peanut adds a kick and a bite, and a crunchy texture to contrast the other ingredients.  A simple dish with pure ingredients, how refreshing is that?

Spring Roll
Spring roll, egg roll, summer roll; what are all these Asian rolls?  A spring roll is more common in the Southeast Asian region where veggies, pork and/or shrimp are wrapped delicately in rice paper (not fried).  At SaBai Thong, this dish is called the "summer roll."  The spring roll shown here is more commonly known as the Southeast Asian Egg Roll and is filled with veggies, pork, and noodles.  The one here is served as a crispy roll filled with ground pork and shrimp, mung bean noodle, cabbage, carrot with house sauce and ground peanut.  The SaBai Thong Egg Roll is seen below.  Be aware that spring rolls and egg rolls are used interchangeably no matter where you go.  SaBai Thong’s Egg Roll consists of ground Chicken and mixed vegetables wrapped with egg roll skin, served golden brown with house sauce.   

Egg Roll

Chicken Pad Thai
A sweet and spicy dish you can get at SaBai Thong is their popular Pad Thai served with small rice noodles stir fried with bean sprouts, green onion, shredded cabbage, egg, yellow tofu, and chicken, topped with cilantro and crushed peanut.  This dish packs a thick flavor of sweetness, which is complemented with the zesty cilantro, and a fresh squeeze of lime juice.  I normally order 3 stars (4 stars for spicy level, 1 being mild) since I don't think their spice level is accurate but please don't leave out any fire from this dish.  It just gives it so much more character and flavor, the extra umph that the dish could use.

Pad Goo Kasat
Speaking of sweet and spicy; for the seafood lovers there's the Pad Goo Kasat, which contains scallop, shrimp, calamari with broccoli, pea pod, baby corn, mushroom, bamboo shoot, cauliflower, and chili paste sauce.  Sounds spicy, but the chili paste is pretty mild compared to the sweetness you get from the sauce.  Again the spiciness can be controlled by the number of "spicy stars" you request.

Crispy Duck
Crispy Duck, a flavorful plump duck served extra crispy with pea pod, mushroom, green onion, baby corn, carrot, pineapple, and Sriracha chili sauce.  The duck was actually somewhat tender, not as tough or dry as I thought it would be, and with the crispy outside and the sriracha chili sauce, each bite had quite a bit of flavor.  Although, if you eat the duck on its own, there's not much flavor there, you'll get the lean, slight gaminess any duck would give.  Also if you are a person sensitive to the bread soaked in water, you may have a texture difficulty here as the crispy outer layer has sogginess in areas where it was sitting in the sauce.
2840 University Ave, Madison, WI 53705-3644
(608) 238-3100 ‎

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nostrano Means Local!

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Seafood Brodetto
As quoted in their website and Italian-English dictionary, Nostrano means local and they do mean local with plenty fresh ingredients from nearby markets.  My first dish was the Seafood Brodetto and it was truly love at first taste.  Not like other seafood soup, Nostrano's Seafood Brodetto has it all.  The tomato-fennel broth is amazing.  It had a savory sweetness, crisp tang, and a bit of a kick from the chile oil.  I could have just only eaten the broth with the perfectly grilled bread and had been fully satisfied.  But they hooked it up with an abundance of seafood: yelloweye snapper, variety of shellfish, and squid.  I thought I would never say this, but this soup got it going on!  This is the best seafood brodetto I've ever had.

Smoked Pork Shank Sandwich
The Seafood Brodetto was amazing, unfortunately I can't say the same about the Smoked Pork Shank Sandwich.  I liked most every ingredient except for one, which was the main ingredient, the pork.  The giardiniera was great with a little kick and sourness, the greens fresh, whole grain mustard flavorful with spice, and the focaccia (flat oven-baked Italian bread) crunchy yet smooth.  So where did it go wrong?  The pork did not have a smoke flavor I was looking for, it had a very strong salty taste.  The bread, veggies, cheese had no chance to come out over the overly salted pork.  Unfortunately, for the sake of my taste buds, I would not be trying this dish again.
Tomato Bruschetta
The menu listed English Pea Bruschetta with fresh mozzarella, marcona almonds, pea shoots, and grilled sourdough; though since they were out of the peas, we had tomatoes to substitute and I must say I truly enjoy the revised bruschetta with tomatoes.  It was a very smart move to keep the tomatoes and mozzarella in big slices like a caprese instead of the familiar diced tomatoes.  It added a lot of body and texture to each bite.  The basil and watercress was a perfect complement to each other, with a bit of spice and tang without overpowering other flavors.  A unique tasty bruschetta; no regrets missing out on the English peas.
Nostrano definitely focus on creativity and bringing different flavors to the table.  They show this through their dishes and also their dessert.  The torta contained chocolate-hazlenut sponge, coffee, mousse, maple agrodolce (sweet and sour), coconut gelato (egg shape in picture).  It is what it sounds like, "a lot going on."  This dessert is unique as it contains many texture and flavor; layered with soft and thick chocolate, smooth and rich flavors; crush nuts and silk gelato, crunchy and melty.  Now put it all together and you have everything in one bite.

111 South Hamilton Street, Madison, WI

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