Wabi Sabi (formerly Pho Saigon)
3½ palms (out of 5)
Where: 455 N. Courtenay Parkway, Merritt Island
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Other: Besides the monkey-themed King Kong Combo, there’s another interesting sushi combination: the Jalapeno Lovers Combo, with jalapeno sashimi, jalapeno roll and chef’s choice nigiri.
Wabi Sabi, a restaurant with a pan-Asian menu on Merritt Island, is full of delightful surprises. The first is that it is, indeed, Wabi Sabi. Maybe by press time a new sign will be up, but when we went, the outside still said “Pho Saigon.”
The renovated restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating. We went inside, where the hip lights and paint job give it a bright, welcoming atmosphere. It’s too noisy, but it still is convivial.
The large menu includes Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese specialties, plus items from the new sushi bar. Beer, wine and sake are available. We sampled a little of everything, starting with the Crab Angels ($5.95) — I just can’t resist these wontons, despite the “krab” filling — and so-called Monkey Brain ($5.95). I was relieved it was not actually made of monkey brains. It’s half an avocado topped with spicy tuna and crab, fried tempura-style, and is a wonderfully moist, tasty appetizer of pleasantly contrasting textures.
There are other “monkey” items on the menu, including Monkey Thumbs (jalapenos stuffed with faux crab and fried), Monkey Leg (a complex shrimp tempura roll) and Monkey Tail (spicy tuna roll with eel), and you can get them all together in the King Kong Combo ($29.95). Hee hee.
We tried the Eel Lovers Combo ($15.95), with a fine eel roll, six pieces of various nigiri and a satisfyingly crunchy salmon skin temaki (hand roll). The Wabi Sabi Roll ($12.95) was really good, too, with hamachi (yellowtail), cucumber, tuna, avocado and avocado puree, nicely accented with yellow miso dressing.
The Thai entrees come in lunch or dinner portions; pick your meat, then your accompaniment. My husband got the duck dinner ($16.95) with the basil entree — sauteed basil, onion, bell peppers, snow peas and scallions. The duck dish’s spicy flavor contrasted nicely with the sweet basil.
The Vietnamese contribution to our meal was Bun Dac Biet, with rice noodles — a whole mess of cold rice noodles, through which one had to dig to get to the good stuff — along with veggies, chunks of good egg roll, shrimp and savory pieces of pork.
After a lamentable red bean ice cream meltdown, we were told by our efficient if very busy server, the restaurant had one dessert to offer that night — fried ice cream ($4.95). Vanilla, that is. We weren’t disappointed. And for all the variety and flavor to be found at Wabi Sabi, we will definitely go back.