I am so glad that I didn’t let my insane bout of allergies keep me home last Friday; I almost missed out on a terrific meal at Manayunk’s Chabaa Thai Bistro.
I can’t remember the last time I ate there, but evidently, it was way too long ago. Had I known the error of my ways, I would have committed one night a week to Thai indulgence.
It was a steamy night, so even though many people favor the quaint second-level dining space, I was really happy to be seated near the front door, where I was also able to do some decent people-watching. The cushy banquette felt just right after a long, somewhat annoying, day due to those insane allergies, and the wonderful aromas wafting through the air calmed my nerves immediately.
Having arrived late, I was quickly greeted by a pre-ordered, steaming bowl of Tom Yum soup, packed with tofu, shrimp, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, a welcome wallop of spice, and a rich broth that covered the rest of the bases with bold, sour, salty and sweet surges. Even while I was breaking out into a sweat—not fun after taking a shower and attempting to get a little dolled up for the night—I was in hog heaven. I usually make this soup at home and have perfected my own version to my liking. From the very first spoonful, I was reminded that, um, I don’t have quite the touch â€¦
For my entrÃ©e, I ordered red curry with a seafood medley—honestly, I’m not even sure what that is called on the menu because I was improvising with the waiter. This is the kind of thing that can be a letdown at other Thai restaurants with miscalculated seasonings and ingredient proportions or overcooked, rubbery seafood. (OK, maybe it’s not always so bad, but you see where I’m going here â€¦) This was a bowl-licking, velvety blend of sweet and spicy dried red chilies, galangal and coconut milk, with fresh sweet basil leaves, bamboo shoots, colorful bell peppers, shrimp, mussels, scallops and fresh squid—luscious, creamy and satisfyingly spicy. I honestly don’t remember the last time I had such an incredibly well-prepared dish—the seafood was absolutely tender and sweet—and with such depth. It won me over in the first bite, just as the soup did. Just thinking about it now has me salivating.
I didn’t nibble on anything else that my friends ordered, but they were all glowing with pleasure, pigging out on heaping plates of salmon and roast duck pad Thai, plus an intriguing, hearty salad of crispy tofu, spring mix and assorted fresh vegetables laced with a zesty peanut sauce.
Having recently been to younger sib MangoMoon on the eastern end of Main Street and spoken with its owner, who at the time was a little forlorn that her Chabaa Thai customers seemed to want the new place to emulate its big sister, I was able to relate. Of course, I wouldn’t want both restaurants to offer the exact same experience, so I will take them both up on curing whatever ails me.
If it has been a while for you, too, I suggest you check it out. Hopefully, you’ll have an equally delectable and pleasing visit.
BTW, it’s BYO.
4371 Main St., Manayunk, (215) 483-1979.