The British and Indian curries. The Germans and döner kebabs. Atlantans and a good pad thai. Do we love it because Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer? I'm not sure, but when it comes to favorite adopted cuisines, our little corner of the Southeast is infused with a whole lot of southeast Asia. It feels that on every block -- or at least somewhere in every neighborhood -- there is a Thai restaurant, such as the recently opened SbyDee. And while 10th St. between Peachtree and Juniper doesn't feel quite like a neighborhood, this new addition in a familiar location (formerly the Thai-Vietnamese Wild Curry & Cha Gio Café) aims to fill the void where both appetite and amiability are concerned.
Southern hospitality: As Southerners, we take pride in pleasantries, and maybe that's one solid reason we're so enamored with the equally hospitable Thais. SbyDee (pronounced sa-by-dee) means "doing just fine" in Thai. It's like saying, "Straight," or "Aight," when someone asks, "How in the Sam Hill are ya?" And the attentive but unobtrusive apron-clad staff maintains a doin'-fine, unforced air throughout the dining experience.
Color me at ease: Beneath a pastel mural of a skewed cityscape, a room full of salarymen and native urbanites discuss acquisitions and vacations over lunch. A foyer that could offer itself up for an evening rendezvous currently houses an unoccupied bar, but the license process is underway. The clean, minimalist setting works in that satisfying Asian way.
Playing dress up: Plating plays a part at SbyDee. While not "architectural," there is certainly something flirtatious about slender spring rolls reclining in a cocktail glass, toes dipped in sweet-and-sour sauce. (Admittedly, basil rolls merely pose prone on a plate, but the snap of fresh herb is excitement enough.) Soup bowls seem to glide tableward with wings of banana leaf extending from their saucers. Rice (jasmine or brown) comes as a conical accompaniment, a sprig of lemongrass placed in its taper, and flash-fried basil is the feather in the headdress atop kaow basil beef. A dish of three-flavor snapper features a fan of broccoli and julienned carrots. Unfortunately, the fried fish was a little dry, with veggies heaped on top, and the dish didn't feel fully realized.
Northern exposure: Yes, earlier I prattled on about many things Southern, but cuisine at SbyDee isn't restricted to chili-infused southern Thai; the sticky rice and citric-sweet components of central and northeastern Thailand hold their own on the menu. If samples of Thai cuisine were offered like perfume at a department store counter, lemongrass would be the head note and kaffir lime a base note. A waft of lemongrass is certainly present in the delicate profile of tom kha gai soup (chicken, straw mushroom and coconut milk), the top of which is attractively mottled with chili oil and at the bottom of which resides a syrupy burst from Thailand's indigenous snack the grape tomato. Lemongrass also glazes "BBQ chicken," which is unfortunately dry, but the sprightly sour of the accompanying saliva-inducing papaya salad almost compensates. The panang curry's tofu is gently crisped, the glossy zest of kaffir surgical in its underpinnings, the flavor precise and steady.
SbyDee isn't destination dining yet, but its heart is in the right place. With subtle tweaks to execution (and perhaps a dollar shaved from some prices here or there), this kitchen should be "doing just fine" as a neighborhood comfort.
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