EXCURSION SPOTLIGHT: A Sai (sigh) of Delight
Thai cuisine is characterized by several taste elements — including spicy and sweet. Downtown Jonesboro is home to a restaurant that well marries the tradition of this culture with sophistication.
photography by Janet Warlick
Sai Thai Cuisine brings the robust flavors of Asia to downtown Jonesboro. Owner Sai Kattaviravong is Laos by birth and explained the neighboring countries of Thai and Laos share many cultural similarities, including cuisine.
Of course, introducing Thai food to a new audience can be a challenge. “Americans love Chinese food, and when we opened many people expected ‘Chinese’ food and a buffet,” Kattaviravong said, and while she’s not critical of these establishments, she wanted to do something different. “I really wanted to introduce the food of my country in an upscale way.”
Kattaviravong and her husband moved to Jonesboro after meeting and marrying while attending college in Russellville. Husband Pi is a nuclear pharmacist, and she initially worked in real estate; however, after their two children were born, she became a fulltime mom. “My husband encouraged me to open the restaurant. I wanted something small, something I could manage since I’ve never owned a business.” Sai Thai Cuisine seats about 60; it has a sushi bar as well as booth and tabletop seating.
To achieve the upscale feel, she spent several months working on the interior. Like many of the buildings downtown, Sai has exposed brick walls, which Kattaviravong covered with more than 2,000 copper leaves, adding an iridescent glow aided by the abundance of sunlight from the entry. The dark wood floors and furnishings emphasize Sai’s elegance and lend a cozy feeling. Woven scarlet fabrics adorn the tabletops and the menus and pay homage to Kattaviravong’s heritage. Of course, the food is the ultimate tribute.
Kattaviravong is one of seven children and spent many hours in the kitchen cooking with her mother. The menu includes many of the dishes she and her mother prepared as well as a number of crowd pleasers.
Our first visit to Sai was unplanned, however, we left with plans to feature the restaurant in the near future. We enjoyed lemongrass soup, which was served with kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, mushrooms, green onions and other spices lending it a spicy, yet refreshing taste. We next sampled the shrimp satay. Served on a skewer with peanut and cucumber sauces, it was a winner as well.
This visit, we sampled several of Kattaviravong’s favorite dishes and house specialties. Our palettes were treated to two appetizers, crab rangoons, a familiar dish — Sai’s preparation was definitely notable; it was crisp and tasty — and Sai spicy beef salad. This full-flavored fare is a great mix of textures. We tried two of Sai’s sushi offerings: the downtown roll and customer-favorite OMG. The downtown roll includes tempura shrimp and cream cheese with spicy tuna, avocado and eel sauce … a tasty combination. The OMG roll was just that … an order-another-it’s-that-good combination of tempura shrimp, soy paper, avocado and cucumber, topped with crabmeat and three sauces.
The entrees were all a treat for the taste buds as well … the Pad Thai, also a familiar dish, was well done and pleasing … and the red curry was remarkable, with Thai sweet basil leaves with red curry paste and cream of coconut packs a punch with heat and cilantro and the coconut to soothe.
Kattaviravong’s goal of bringing elegance while serving authentic Thai food has been well achieved. We encourage you to stop in and give your taste buds a treat.
Sai Thai Cuisine
211 S. Main St. • Jonesboro, AR
(870) 931-0700 • saithaicuisine.com
Mon. through Fri., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m.; Sat., 5 to 9 p.m.