Zabb Thai Cuisine – Where meat abounds but vegans can feast


By NIMMI RAGHUNATHAN

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — For those of us more accustomed to city names being included in restaurant names — Delhi, Mumbai, Madras — Zabb Thai Cuisine raises questions. Owner Benito Leon explains with somewhere between a sigh and a smile, that means flavor.

And the restaurant tries to do it: sometimes with subtlety and other times with more force. Thus, there are crunchy vegetables in moist sauces, fried dishes offset by salads and slivers of herbs that rest happily on the palate.

Some things stand out about Zabb.

The first is absolute fearlessness in taking on complicated tasks in the kitchen. So you have the Katoang Thong, or what the restaurant calls, “little pots of gold”. These are delicious little fried shells made from a combination of flours including corn, rice and tapioca and filled with onions, potatoes and vegan chicken tossed with curry spices. For Indian taste buds, it’s vaguely familiar and deliciously consumable finger food.

Then there are the more complicated angel wings which are stuffed chicken wings. Rarely seen in Southland Thai restaurants, the process of bringing this dish to the table is laborious. It starts with skill and patience: deboning the chicken wings. Then chicken meat, glass noodles, green and red onion, herbs and spices are ground and stuffed. In between, there is pre-cooking, baking and frying. It’s a unique experience and every bite is satisfying.

The dishes mentioned so far may include the frying process, but health-conscious people should know this: not a drop of fat on the plate.

Another striking thing about Zabb is its extensive vegan menu. Leon thinks cooking easily lends itself to this if the easier, cheaper, Americanized versions were not used. It disdains the anchovy, fish and prawn sauces found in curries and Thai salads for a quick seasoning. Sensitive to the requirements of vegetarian customers, the kitchen also uses separate fryers with only vegetable oil filtered daily. Moreover, the restaurant is ready to replace any dish with vegan meat or pure vegetables. Even the ubiquitous Thai iced tea can be sipped, splashed with coconut milk.

The coconut curries stand out at Zabb – eight of them to be precise. Of course, there are all the familiar colors, yellow, green and red, but there are also those of the jungle and the pineapple. Warning: if you add chicken meat, you get the white version, which, according to some studies, contains less fat.

The menu is extensive and for the Thai food lover, it’s full of familiar stir-fried dishes, soups, salads and entrees. Zabb’s kitchen is happy to adjust spices and other flavors for an individualized experience. A lover of Thai food himself, Leon, whose heritage is Mexican, says the goal is to please.

American Indians seem to take heed of private parties held in the large interior space that overlooks potted plants through wide windows. A short drive from the Orange County center of Irvine and 30 minutes from Artesia, the community seems to have discovered this restaurant.

It has a full bar, hosts a weekday happy hour from 3-6 p.m., and offers champagne lunch on weekends. Check it out.

Zabb Thai Food

4001 W Coast Highway,

Newport Beach, CA 92663

www.zabbandvegetarianthai.com

949.432.5443

Open every day.

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