First Look: Sabai Sabai finds a new home on Bloor East


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Image: Jason Finestone

Sabai Sabai has entered into its second incarnation with a move to the Yonge and Bloor area, a doubling of their capacity and a renewed focus on Laotian hospitality and preparations. 

Owners Jason Jiang and Seng Luong returned from a few weeks visiting their home country with the goal of “bringing back the essence of Lao”. Chef Nuit Regular (partner in the business and chef/owner of Sukho Thai and Pai) has helped to translate some of Jiang and Luong’s personal recipes as well as infuse her classic northern Thai essence alongside some new Laotian specialties into the menu. 


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 

A collage of Polaroids greets those entering the cool and cozy room. Traditional bamboo fishing traps, common along the Mekong river, flank the hosts stand and hand woven silk screens from Luang Prabang hang along one wall of the 120-seat dining room. 

A carefully curated wine list featuring many local consignment labels joins a thoughtful cocktail selection, and they’re the only spot in town where you can get Bia Lao, Laos’s national brew. 


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 

“It’s the same as back home,” Jiang says, of the vibe they’ve worked to create. “Everyone is very chill – and it’s all about the bar, too!”

The two want to bring wine and cocktails into the context of Southeast Asian cuisine, pairing bright acidic whites with spicy Lao style grilled chicken wings ($12) and round, juicy reds with rich khao soi ($15-17) and massamam curries ($15). 


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 

Green papaya salads ($11) are mixed by mortar and pestle, incorporating sweet and salty Thai blue crab, crisp long bean and housemade fish sauce called padaek done with fermented fresh water fish and shrimp paste. 


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 

No oil is used to sauté the minced pork laap Lao lettuce wraps ($12), infused with an aromatic bouquet of fresh herbs like Vietnamese finger mint, coriander sawtooth mint, lemongrass, lime leaf, ginger and shallot. The unofficial national dish of Laos should see a variety of iterations come through the menu, including fish, duck, chicken, beef, mushroom and even vegan options. 

An eleven-item vegan menu is also available daily, with classics like their tom ka soup ($7.50), eggplant stir fry with Thai basil and red pepper ($10), as well as the slender mixed rice noodles that form the base for coconut mee kati ($13) with tamarind sauce, king oyster mushrooms and tofu, instead of the chicken and egg thread options found on the main menu. 

The duo is not done defining their cultural cuisine and convivial aesthetic here in the city, hoping to expand the palatal perception of Laotian cuisine amongst Torontonians. 

“Sabai Sabai is like a home,” Jiang says. “When you’re here it’s like we’re entertaining.” 

“You’re coming to Seng and Jason’s home,” Luong adds with a smile. 

Sabai Sabai, 81 Bloor St. E., 647-748-4225


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 

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Jason is a freelance food and travel writer and the Chief Experience Officer at U-Feast, a website to discover unique, off-menu dining experiences. A lover of dumplings, noodle soups and schmaltz, his ethnically inclined palate is constantly searching for the next flavour wave in Toronto and beyond. Find him on Instagram @finest_one and on Twitter @j_finestone.

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