Venue Review: Sabi Asian Bistro
The Charlotte Observer
130 Harbour Place Drive, Davidson
Sabi is so pretty.
And the Web site is popping: good graphics, good photos, good marketing prose.
Some of all that energy needs to be redirected, back into its kitchen. Because some of the food emerging is excellent, and some unfortunate.
Best first: A terrific maki from the sushi menu that employs two kinds of tuna, plus avocado and various colored roe; and some good, fresh, simple nigiri sushi. A well-done red curry – spicy hot, but not overpowering – gives you your choice of protein, including tofu.
Less glowing: Unpleasantly gummy tamago (egg nigiri sushi) and unagi (eel) that hadn't been crisped as it should. A version of flower chicken listed as “drenched in white wine sauce” that just about was. Lettuce wraps of tasteless filling piled onto small iceberg leaves.
Unacceptable: Salmon in a “Western Plate” preparation that we were warned would take 25 minutes, then arrived still frozen in the center, its ginger and horseradish crust spongy and wet. We sent it back. It returned drenched with a new sauce, still cold and obviously raw in the center.
Servers, dressed casually, work quickly, and are fairly adept at describing dishes. But they recommend personal favorites, not kitchen-dictated strengths – perhaps because the menu attempts to cover such a vast amount of culinary ground, from Louisiana crab cakes to Mongolian beef. It adds to that range dishes such as sweet and sour chicken, hot wings and General Tso's chicken.
I'm not averse to a place offering both challenging or less-usual dishes and tried-and-true American best-sellers, but it's quite difficult to do, and it's a disservice to people learning about various cuisines to do them offhandedly.
Not to mention a waste of money.
Which is a shame, since obviously no effort was spared in the handsome outfitting of Sabi. Cool celery walls enclose interesting ornamentation, from segmented mirrors to intricate pendant lights to faux animal heads. Seating is nicely varied, the sushi bar is roomy and the patio spacious. Views from inside are well framed.
Co-owner Ken Yung, originally from Canton, brings New York experience in several Asian cuisines, while co-owner Rob Mitchell, according to Yung, helps define what American customers want. Mitchell and his wife, Margaret, chose the name, Yung says, from the phrase “wabi sabi”: a Japanese aesthetic that values simple and imperfect beauty.
Sabi requires some adjustments on that score.