The only thing wrong with Sa'ing Thai is that it isn't in my neighborhood; it's not even anywhere near my neighborhood. If it were, I'd be a regular. But plenty of people on the far eastside are regulars. On both visits the place was pretty busy, mostly from get 'n' go customers.
It was a dark and nearly stormy night on our first visit. Mom was in the kitchen. Pop was helping out in the front of the house and a young man, the son we assumed, was taking orders, running the register and working with a deliveryman. This is the very definition of a family restaurant. In this case, one with a full array of Thai dishes that must come from the family files. All menu items are labeled in Thai with brief explanations in English to guide diners.
Dishes are brought to the table one at a time, which in our case worked nicely and made sharing and discussing the food easy.
We began with soup, the tom kah koong ($10.95). Coming to the table fairly a-boil from the hot pot serving dish, this soup was an amazing balance of flavors and textures. Plenty of tender shrimp added a briny hint of the sea. Silky and sweet coconut milk broth with an undercurrent of lime tempered the heat of the roasted chile paste. Flecks of lemon grass and herbs swam in the broth. There were translucent onions, straw mushrooms and pretty, almost melted tomatoes. Truly a balance of tastes and textures, this was a meal unto itself.
The pun sib ($6.50) were a nice complement to the lovely soup. These Thai versions of pot stickers were large. They resembled ravioli and we thought the wrap may have been homemade because of their rustic shape. Inside was finely ground pork, densely packed and lightly seasoned. They had been perfectly pan fried—crisp and cooked through. Pot stickers sometimes are gummy and burnt at the same time. These were not. They came with a dipping sauce that was sweet and savory and almost syruplike in texture: umami in a bowl. When we asked what it was called, the reply was "just my wife's sauce."
The pla rad prik ($12.95) was a wonder. A whole trout had been butterflied and cooked to a light crispiness. Then a thick, dark sauce rich with peppers had been poured on top. The fish fell apart at the touch of a fork and the sauce held hints of tamarind and chiles, smoke and sweetness, dark and light.
We also ordered pad woon sen ($9.95), a delightful mix of flavorful glass noodles, tender cabbage, tomatoes, green onions, thick slices of cucumber, a scramble of egg and big chunks of white-meat chicken. The "cool" ingredients in this dish balanced the heat of our other dishes and tasted great the next day for lunch.
Speaking of lunch ... there is a long list of lunch specials, and they come with soup of the day, rice and an egg roll. There was plenty of food for the price ($7.95 for most specials; $8.95 with shrimp as the protein).
We ordered the pad Thai with shrimp, the gaeng pa-neng with beef (you have your choice of proteins with each dish; chicken and pork are the other two options) and a salad, the yum woon sen ($9.95). We also ordered the Thai iced coffee but were informed they were out of it so we ordered hot tea ($1.95) instead. Beer and wine are available.
Again, we were blown away at the levels of flavor in all the dishes.
The salad is a warm one, with bean thread noodles, minced pork, shrimp and squid, two types of onions and lovely, subtle seasonings. Sadly, the squid was non-existent (or at least there was not enough of it to notice) but this was a great starter. With hints of lime and Thai basil, this light salad packed a passel of flavors. We were asked what level of heat we wanted in the salad. We asked for 'hot' and even though it didn't scream hot, we had tears in our eyes as we ate it.
The soup of the day was hot and sour, and it was a great rendition. Spicy hot, it was missing that slick mouth feel found in most versions of this soup. There were dark mushrooms and crunchy bamboo shoots, green onion and an assortment of other vegetables in a rich, savory broth. The ribbons of wonton wrappers that sat artfully on top were crispy as could be.
The bowl of curry was filled with thin, tender strips of beef and plenty of slices of green and red peppers. Again, there was that perfect balance: a little heat, a little sweet, a tang of citrus and a creamy savoriness. With the jasmine rice, which was light and almost nutty, the heat mellowed some but still popped.
Ordering pad Thai might be a bit plebian but we were glad we did. The noodles seemed like linguini and were tossed with brightly colored egg, sprouts and green onion. I don't mean to repeat myself, but again all the flavors were in perfect balance (often tamarind or lime dominate, but not so here).
The only item that didn't impress us was the egg roll. It wasn't bad, just not outstanding.
All in all, the food at Sa'ing Thai was impressive. There seems to be an understanding of how to bring out the best flavors in each dish. Although many of the ingredients used in various dishes were the same, each plate was distinctive and flavorful.
Were Sa'ing Thai a little closer I would eat there often. The owners also own China Thai on Tanque Verde. Perhaps that's how I can enjoy their food again without the long trek to Valencia and Houghton.