DAVIDSON – Rob Mitchell is a good judge of character.
After eating many times at an Asian restaurant in Charlotte, he became friends with sushi chef Ken Yeung. Eventually, the two men got to talking about starting their own restaurant.
Mitchell’s wife, Margaret, thought this was just idle talk until they started looking at spaces and reviewing menus.
“I thought it was a crazy idea at first,” she said. “But thank goodness we did it!”
Sabi opened in 2008 and works with three types of Asian cuisine: Chinese, Japanese and Thai, but with some twists. The tagline is “Where East Meets West” and this is evident in the décor, service and food.
So customers can expect the unexpected. Items such as candied walnuts, rice vermicelli and ribeye pepper the menu. Yeung is responsible for the majority of menu items. He came over from China with his family in 1991 at age 16 and has worked in restaurants ever since.
“He is a machine,” said Margaret Mitchell. “I just can’t say enough about this man as a businessman, father and worker. We are so blessed to be partners with him.”
Yeung runs the kitchen in a very traditional way, making all the sauces from absolute scratch.
“When they make the teriyaki sauce – wow, what a process,” Margaret Mitchell said. “There are whole fruits in there, and they just boil it for days and days!”
The result is super fresh sauces with complex, nuanced flavors, not just the regular over-salted store-bought fare. When fish arrives at the restaurant, it is in the Eastern tradition. There will be a three-foot-long tuna with the head still on it. Yeung and his staff expertly slice and dice it for the right-off-the-boat taste.
The care taken with the food is evident in presentation and flavor. The salmon on a bed of brown rice is super fresh and light, perfect for a midday meal. The sweet and spicy mango chicken is the perfect blend of flavors, allowing the aromatic spices to shine through. The sushi rolls are edible works of art created with optimal taste and a flair for presentation. All the desserts are made in-house including the crème brûlée cheesecake, which is the recipe of a waiter.
There is a full bar with at least nine types of Sake and experienced bartenders who are happy to offer suggestions.
The décor of the space is modern and intimate. The bar extends around a corner with two roomy, comfy booths that sit flush to the bar. The waitstaff takes the order from behind the bar, letting the customer feel as if they are part of the scene.
The rest of the restaurant opens like a cherry blossom expanding gently through two rooms. Beautiful handmade doors seal off a banquet room.
Mervil Paylor, of Davidson, loves to take clients and friends to Sabi.
“If they’ve never been here before, I usually just order for the table,” she said. “That way we can all sample more of the amazing food.”
When Sabi opened, there was not a sit-down Asian restaurant in Davidson.
“The community was so welcoming,” said Margaret Mitchell. “We’ve had amazing success due to Davidson College, the elementary schools and all the people of Davidson.”
The team has also just opened a second restaurant down in the Pineville area called “Sky,” after Yeung’s daughter with his wife, Song.
“It’s been so busy opening the second location,” Mitchell said. “But doing it with Ken and Song Yeung makes it worth it!”
Sabi is also worth the trip; East and West collide in a most tasty way.
Want to go?
Sabi is located at 130 Harbour Place Drive, Davidson. Details: 704-895-5707.