Restaurant review

Saab Sis Thai brings tradition and style to Royal Oak

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In an area where a Thai restaurant’s quality is often determined by its modesty – strip malls where shrimp fries hang in plastic bags behind the register point to some of Metro Detroit’s best spots for Thai food. – Saab Sis Thai presents a new reality that a space can be true to both its age-old eating habits and its own identity in design and presentation.

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An air of femininity reflecting the sister owners of Saab Sis Thai wafts throughout the restaurant, from the feathery strokes of greenery and purple flowers blooming on the menu pages to the jewelry display lined with dainty earrings for sale at the box.

The sunken dining room is more like a tiki bar or a bohemian nail salon offering relaxing manicures rather than massaman curry. Wicker stools are tucked into a bar lined with blue Mediterranean tiles, and upholstered banquettes are decorated with cushions fashioned from banana leaf-print slipcovers.

Saab Sis Thai debuts in Royal Oak as a traditional Thai restaurant serving authentic dishes in a chic space.

The drinks feel like an artist’s first dip in brush cleaner between strokes on the canvas. Butterfly pea flower floats on luscious lemonade for a two-tone drink dipped in a slice of lime. The drink is very sweet on the first sip, but when swirled to create an even purple color, there is a perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors. And the appeal of Thai Iced Tea, Thai Iced Coffee and Iced Matcha Latte is the way the milk wraps around the generous amount of ice cubes that clink in each glass.

A seasonal dessert made from ripened mango is served with sweet sticky rice dyed purplish-blue and molded into a heart shape, and pineapple fried rice sits in the hollow part of a halved pineapple.

Saab Sis Thai’s youthful aesthetic appeals to Royal Oak’s increasingly young and fashionable 20- and 30-something demographic in a way that Thai restaurants before it did not. Could a no-frills restaurant with little more than a framed photo of a Thai landscape on an otherwise barren wall have suited the tenants of the lofts near the Aldor? Maybe. But there’s something about a sprawling mural of lush palm fronds and vibrant orchids that nods to Thailand’s botanical gardens that makes for a better backdrop for an Instagram reel.

Where Saab Sis Thai stays true to tradition is on the plate, with recipes that draw on the owners’ Bangkok origins. A papaya salad is crisp with lively green beans and served in a bowl consisting of a lettuce leaf almost floating in a spicy garlicky broth.

Tom yum soup arrives on the table in a metal serving bowl. Plump mushrooms are meaty and plentiful, like a bowl of mussels out of the shell. Dots of chili oil shimmer on the surface like red flakes, and chunks of shiny lemongrass hug the nooks and crannies of the shrimp you add to the soup.

Crispy fried chicken wings are topped with a handful of fried shallots.

There are of course Thai staples. Gai satay offers four tender chicken skewers rich in notes of warm spices. Fried shallots, like a handful of Rice Krispies, provide an extra crunch to fried chicken wings placed on a banana leaf.

Every element of Saab Sis Thai’s rice and noodle dishes is perfectly cooked. Stalks of gai-lan or Chinese broccoli are beautifully julienned in the Pad See-Ew alongside fluffy, wide rice noodles and soft-boiled eggs — not soggy. In the drunken noodles, the carrots are artfully cut with ridges on the edges and whole chunks of fresh basil are soft, but not overcooked. Herbs in restaurant dishes retain their shape and dark green hue. I fan a piece of basil on my plate and trace its veins with my fork. I marvel at the web-like pattern as if it were a piece of lace cut from the neckline of a vintage cocktail dress.

Pad See-Ew features Chinese broccoli, wide rice noodles, eggs, and Chinese broccoli with a choice of protein (beef pictured) in a sweet soy sauce.

For dessert, three miniature porcelain bowls are very hot and bubbling on the surface. A moderately salty jelly, like the meat of a coconut, coats a soft, smooth coconut porridge. The combination is delicious and decadent albeit small in size.

Saab Sis Thai is a great spot for a multitude of occasions – a leisurely solo lunch, a cozy date or a bachelorette party with a large group of friends.

Above all, it’s a place for really tasty Thai food in a stylish space.

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Saab Sis Thai, 515 S. Lafayette Avenue, Royal Oak. 248-543-7210; saabsisthai.com

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