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Sa-Bai Thong

View from Sa-Bai Thong's back windowIn a word: Many wins, some losses, all Thais.

The specs: #0578
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Yelp, Insider Pages, Dining in Madison (no relation), microcline, Unedited Inedita, Search for Authentic Food, Trip Advisor, Kudzu, 77 Square; listing at Eat Drink Madison; official web site, Sa-Bai Thong West on Urbanspoon

Latest Sa-Bai Thong news and reviews

Ben and Krista split the pa-naeng vegetable curry and Krista had a Thai iced tea.
JM ate the pad prio wan.
John ate the crispy duck.
Nichole ate the pa-naeng chicken curry.
Ryan ate the roast duck curry.
We split some rangoon, shrimp purses, and summer rolls.
The bill was $90, or $15/person, plus tip.
John gave Sa-Bai Thong an A; Nichole gave Sa-Bai Thong an A-; JM gave Sa-Bai Thong a B+ (see our grading rubric).

We chose Sa-Bai Thong on Odana over the one on University because of the road work that had thwarted a previous Blizzard run. The WestTowne-ish location is beautiful inside, with a lovely party room in front and a huge picture window overlooking a bucolic scene (the nearby marshy soccer field).

Appetizers here are also aesthetically pleasing. The summer rolls of lettuce, cukes, carrots, sprouts, herbs and vermicelli with tofu came with plum sauce topped with ground peanuts and artfully prepped garnish; the rolls were fresh and tightly rolled. Our customary crab rangoon were above average, with whipped cream cheese and precision-crimped wonton wrappers. The stunner was the shrimp purse, however (so stunning the camera ate them, again, hey! it's hungry, too). Five perfectly rounded, golf-ball-sized packets cinched shut with a bit of (we think) seaweed contained ground water chestnut, shrimp, chicken, carrots, and cilantro.

We didn't sample many beverages, but Krista's Thai iced tea was very strong yet not overbrewed or bitter.

Summer rollsCrab rangoon

It being the weekend, we were given dinner menus at lunchtime, which were huge. We made our choices and did the typical "how many stars hot" dance with the server, which turned out to be moot - all our dishes arrived one-star but accompanied by small dishes of chili oil and a salty chili powder mix.

Roast duck curryCrispy duck

Ryan's roast duck curry and John's crispy duck were similar in that they were both larger portions and both used batter-fried, then sliced, duck meat in sauce. Ryan's was a coconut-milk and basil-spiked red curry sauce with bamboo shoots, tomatoes, red peppers, and sweetly complementary grapes and pineapple bits.

John's crispy duck was served in a spicier sauce (thanks to the good old Rooster) with peapods, mushrooms, corn, large planks of crinkle-cut carrots, and pineapple. The duck was tender and fatty, and unfortunately but not surprisingly the breading quickly sogged out in the sauce.

Pad prio wanJM, whose tastes run to the pedestrian, yummed up some pork with red pepper, green pepper, pineapple, cucumber, tomato, onion with sweet and sour sauce.  This turned out to be pretty standard fare and he didn't feel compelled one way or another by it.

Ben, Krista and Nichole all ended up with the pa-naeng curry. We all had a hankering for rib-sticking peanut sauce, which, paired with pa-naeng curry paste, zukes, peas, and carrots, was way more than halfway decent. Ben and Krista split the tofu version and Nichole opted for chicken; we agreed these were probably the choicest proteins for the light yet many-splendored sauce. The ratio of stuff to sauce was a little scant, so we were glad to have sampled plenty of appetizers.

Sa-Bai Thong has earned a reputation for being the yardstick for southeast Asian in Madison and the food is good, though of each kind we may have had better (save the duck).  But lunching with friends old and new always makes for a pleasant repast and Sa-Bai Thong managed this well enough. 

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Two things to try another time ... Sum Tum (green papaya salad--go for as hot as you can handle) and Crying Tiger (thai beef salad). Both are admirable when you are a long way from Bangkok.

My husband had some horrid shrimp at this location. Blech.

Sa-Bai Thong is totally the benckmark and quintessential Thai food place in Madison. But the University Ave. is the original and definitely better of the two locations. Ha Long Bay is a close second. And then there is Lao Laan Xang of course, but not technically Thai.

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