Zabb Thai Cuisine – Where Meat Abounds But Vegans Can Delight
By NIMMI RAGHUNATHAN
NEWPORT BEACH, CA – For those of us more used to city names being included in the name of the restaurant – Delhi, Mumbai, Madras – Zabb Thai Cuisine raises questions. Owner Benito Leon explains with somewhere between a sigh and a smile, that it means flavor.
And the restaurant strives to do this: sometimes with subtlety and at other times more robustly. So, there are crisp veggies in wet sauces, fried dishes offset by salads, and slivers of herbs that rest happily on the palate.
A few things stand out at Zabb.
The first is the 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 tiny fried shells made of a combination of flours including corn, rice, and tapioca and filled with onion, potato, and vegan chicken mixed in curry spices. For the Indian taste bud, it is vaguely familiar and deliciously consumable finger food.
Then there are the more complicated Angel Wings which are stuffed chicken wings. Rarely seen in Thai restaurants in the Southland, the process of bringing this dish to the table is a laborious one. It begins with skill and patience: deboning 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 mouthful is satisfying.
The dishes mentioned so far may include the process of frying but the health-conscious have to be told this: not a drop of grease on the plate.
Another striking thing about Zabb is its extensive vegan menu. Leon thinks the cuisine easily lends itself to this if the easier, cheaper, and Americanized versions were not resorted to. He is dismissive of anchovy, fish, and shrimp sauces making their way into Thai curries and salads for quick flavoring. Sensitive to vegetarian customer requirements, the kitchen also uses separate fryers with only vegetable oil that is filtered each day. Also, the restaurant is willing to substitute any dish with vegan meat or straight-up veggies. Even the ubiquitous Thai iced tea can be sipped, splashed with coconut milk.
The coconut curries are a standout at Zabb – eight of them to be precise. Of course, there are all the familiar colors, yellow, green, and red, but there are also the jungle and pineapple ones. Heads up: if you add chicken meat, it is the white version you get, which some studies have said has lower fat.
The menu is expansive and for the Thai food lover chock full with familiar stir fry dishes, soups, salads, and starters. Zabb’s kitchen is happy to adjust the spice and other flavors for an individualized experience. A lover of Thai food himself, Leon whose heritage is Mexican, says the aim is to satisfy.
Indian Americans seem to be heeding with private parties being held in the large indoor space that looks out through wide windows onto potted plants. Just a short drive from the Orange County hub of Irvine and 30 minutes from Artesia, the community seems to have discovered this eatery.
It has a full bar, hosts happy hour on weekdays from 3-6 pm, and on weekends offers a set weekend lunch with champagne. Check it out.
Zabb Thai Cuisine
4001 W.Coast Highway,
Newport Beach, CA 92663