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Sabai

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

We had an unexpected dining experience Monday evening. As I noted in a post on Tuesday, I had finished my grading Monday afternoon, only to delete a whole folder of important files from my computer just before leaving the office. As a result, instead of heading home relaxed, I worried about what I would have to do if the files couldn’t be restored. When I got home, Gail suggested we go straight out to dinner. I hadn’t had lunch and she had to be at a 7:00 meeting of the Madison Park Community Council. An early dinner was called for.

Since Joel had other plans, Gail proposed that we go to Ruby Asian Dining. Ruby is down in Leschi, on Lake Washington about 3 miles south of us, with a mixed Thai-Chinese menu. We used to drive by but never thought to eat there. Then, about four years ago, one MLK weekend, Julie and Stan invited us to watch the first two hours of that season’s 24 with them. They live about 2/3rds of the way from here to Ruby, and they had chosen to get takeout from Ruby’s for our dinner. From then on, we became Ruby Regulars.

One of the pleasures of eating there is that it’s always quiet. As we soon figured out, most of their business is takeout. There’s a constant stream of people coming in to get their orders, with us sometimes the only people at a table. We also figured out that it’s not exactly the greatest Chinese or Thai food. But we like it, and the place is so convenient. Not far from us, never any traffic getting there, in contrast to some of our preferred Chinese or Thai places, which involve crossing one bridge or another, with the possibility of getting stuck with the bridge up or a traffic tie-up.

The only problem was, Joel didn’t much like it. My driving convenience wasn’t as interesting to him as food quality, and he didn’t see the point in eating mediocre food. Sigh. So for the last year, since he came back to Seattle, we haven’t eaten there so often.

Which brings us to Monday, and Gail’s suggestion that we return to Ruby, what with Joel’s friend Mike back in town for the holidays and their having other plans. We drove down, parked at the marina lot just north of the restaurant, and walked up from the waterfront to the sidewalk, only to be greeted by an unfamiliar sight. Even from the lot, something looked different, the way the restaurant’s interior was lit. From the sidewalk, the sign looked different too. And no wonder. It said “Sabai”. A new restaurant!

Or was it? We walked in and saw that a small partition had been constructed to screen the front door from the dining room. Once we got around it, we discovered a new wood floor, a mural painted on the rear wall, new wallpaper on the walls. The booths on the right wall were gone. The tables and chairs were new. One table appeared occupied, but the person sitting there was a staff member, so in fact the place was empty. The host, new to us, said we could sit anywhere. We chose a 4-top by the window, from which we could see that the entry to the kitchen was cleaned up. It used to be an opening across which hung a curtain. Now it was open, but there was a new wall behind, with a decorative table, making for a more welcome view. And of course the menus were all new.

Just then our old host came by to greet us. He explained that the owner hadn’t changed. Just the menu. And the goal — to make it a Thai-only restaurant with better food, and with a larger dine-in clientele. I texted Joel the good news. We reviewed the menu with the first host and made our order.

Then a third man came by and thanked us for being their first customers. Ever! It turns out that Monday was opening night, after they were closed a few weeks for remodeling, and we were the first people to walk in Monday. That was fun. He urged us not to judge us by that night’s food, as they would be experimenting for a while and would continue to improve.

We had spring rolls to start and we thought they were just fine. He came by again to ask how they were and we told him how much we liked them, but he assured us that they would be better next time. This was the first batch and he wasn’t happy with them. He already had an idea for improving them. Then came Pad Thai and a chicken dish with broccoli, both good again.

I’m going to miss the mediocre Chinese food, especially the potstickers, which I thought were better than mediocre. But I think we’re onto something here. Not that there’s a shortage of good Thai restaurants around town. This one is easy to get to, though, with easy parking, the lake view, our old host, a familiar setting, and the opportunity to watch its evolution.

Plus, we’re number one. No one can ever take that away from us.

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