–Julia Crowley, EDN

Just two of the three Local Lunch Gals made it out to lunch this week, Maria and I. Jennifer, who owns a restaurant and catering business, was busy getting ready for next weeks big event, Chef’s Night Out; therefore, she missed our visit to Sabai Cafe & Bar so she could prepare fabulous food for one of Eugene’s premiere events.

Our decision to have lunch at Sabai came after we received numerous suggestions from other food lovers in Eugene. Some of the comments we read about Sabai in emails and on the Local Lunch Gals Facebook page were, “It’s (Sabai) easily my fave. So fresh,” and “the Calamari Salad is out of this world good!” Others raved about the atmosphere, drink options and the full flavored sauces, so our decision of where to go this week was quite simple.

With an emphasis on Thai food, Sabai Cafe & Bar offers an array of dishes based on foods from countries along the Pacific Ocean. It’s located in Oakway Center next to Miss Meers shoe store and has outdoor courtyard seating in addition to indoor dining. Huge picture windows stretch from floor to ceiling, creating a bright and airy feel inside. The decor is modern, sleek and chic; yet, it’s inviting and relaxed. Art work is simple and tasteful, and a gorgeous intricately designed Oriental door adorns the back wall that easily catches the eye when entering the restaurant.

Noodle Tom Kah

Maria arrived a few minutes before I did, and she was immediately greeted with a smile and seated in a comfortable booth in the middle of the restaurant. When I arrived, finding Maria was easy, and we were both happy with our location and agreed the ambiance was extremely pleasing.

From Vietnamese Chicken Wings marinated in Phu Quoc sauce and palm sugar, dusted in rice flour, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc sauce and garlic to Thailand’s well known green, red and yellow curries made with an assortment of vegetables and protein selections, the menu had a lot of options. Maria, with her sensitive stomach, immediately noticed the menu was clearly marked with GF next to items that were gluten-free, so making a decision was easy for her – she ordered the Noodle Tom Kah Soup and added shrimp . For me, the decision was a little harder, everything looked appetizing. I was about to order the Avocado Curry Noodle, but because the Calamari Salad came highly recommended, I decided to go with the “out of this world good” salad, and I indicated my spice preference as mild from a selection of mild, medium, hot and extra hot.

Calamari Salad

The wine list was extensive too, and I was extremely happy to see they had an excellent selection of local wines from Territorial, Capitello, Benton-Lane, Acrobat (King Estate) and Abacela. Since I ordered the Calamari Salad, my decision on which wine to order was easy, I went with the 2009 Capitello Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Maria had her eyes set on the Three Rivers 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon out of Washington state.

Our food arrived promptly and we both said, “wow” at the sight of our dishes. The presentation was beautiful and the exuded aromas were tantalizing.

Maria’s gluten-free Noodle Tom Kah, Thailand’s famous coconut soup made with lemon-grass, galangal, kar leaves, limejuice and chili, included rice noodles tossed in fried garlic along with bean sprouts and green onions. It was topped with ground peanut, fresh cilantro and the added shrimp. Her first bite was an explosion of flavor, starting with lemon grass, coconut and a hint of chili and finishing with lime and cilantro. She noted that the crunch of the bean sprouts were heavenly with the creaminess of the soup.

Sabai supports local wineries

The Calamari Salad was beautiful. Fresh greens were piled high with tempura calamari, pan roasted garlic and cherry tomatoes topped with a sweet toasted sesame seed dressing and fresh cilantro. The tempura calamari was fried to golden brown perfection and extremely tender, and the combination of sweet meets spicy was deliciously sublime.

Once we were close to finishing our meals, which was a little after noon, we noticed that every table in the restaurant was taken and people were waiting to be seated. We quickly finished what little bits were left and decided to give up our table and head to the bar for another glass of wine.

The bar is long, thin and fully stocked. Local beers on tap include Hop Valley, Ninkasi and Oakshire, and their drink menu offers enticing concoctions like a Rangoon Gimlet made with Tanqueray, Basil, Lime and Lemongrass or the Silver Monk made with Hornitos Blanco Tequila, Chartreuse, Cucumber, Lime and Mint. We watched the bartender make an enTHAIce Tea made with Vanilla Vodka and Thai Ice Tea that looked delicious. As usual, however, we ordered wine.

We both agreed our experience at Sabai Cafe & Bar was outstanding. Although Jennifer wasn’t able to make it, she would have been impressed with the service and food quality. Maria was delighted to find a menu that clearly stated gluten-free options, and she was thrilled with the explosion of flavors in the Noodle Tom Kah. I loved the atmosphere and was elated to learn that Sabai supports our local wineries and breweries, and my Calamari Salad was indeed “out of this world good.” We both highly recommend Sabai Cafe & Bar, and we are anxious to return and try some of the other enticing items on the menu, next time with the third Local Lunch Gal, Jennifer.

For a review of the wines we enjoyed with lunch, visit WineJulia.com.

Sabai Cafe & Bar
27 Oakway Center, Eugene