Sapa Sushi Bar and Asian Grill
722 S. State Street, Salt Lake City
I had been meaning to visit Sapa for quite some time. I remember just a year and a half ago, when the décor started to take shape on the otherwise hapless corner of State Street and 700 South. It still blows my mind how awesome of an undertaking the installation of the restaurant was at this location. An old storefront was retrofitted to house a collection of 300-year-old Vietnamese huts, a courtyard and a state-of-the-art kitchen and dining area. Not bad for a place that shares its intersection with a mid-century RadioShack, a shuttered Remco and a credit union. I had heard some rough reports about the early days of dining at Sapa, but I figured that I had stayed away long enough. It was time that SLUG readers knew what the place had to offer.
The restaurant spared no expense in making itself look nice. The interior is lush and sexy. Blown-glass chandeliers provide the perfect mood and the seating area is open enough that it never feels crowded—even when chatty diners occupy every table. As the weather warms up and Sapa is better able to take advantage of its incredible outdoor seating, I imagine that this same mood will permeate that space. In addition to this luxurious setting came some unbelievable food.
Now, I am no expert when it comes to sushi, but that didn’t stop me from sampling a few options from their list of specialties. They offer several of their own creations and many familiar choices as well (California, Philly and Vegas all made the menu). At the suggestion of our server, we started with their signature Imperial Roll ($13). One of their most popular offerings, it is made with crab, avocado and tempura shrimp, topped with spicy tuna, masago, green onions and a sauce with a bit of a kick. I’m normally a wuss when it comes to spice, but this one seemed to hit just right. It built up a little heat, but was never too overwhelming. The avocado and the sweet, crunchy shrimp offset the burn perfectly. The Imperial also makes an appearance on their lunch menu, served with miso soup and a salad for $9.95. We also ordered the Evergreen ($8), a vegetarian roll made with asparagus, mango, red bell peppers, avocado and cucumber wrapped up in soy paper. This was a very flavorful roll whose freshness popped with every bite.
Even with such a killer sushi counter, one should not experience Sapa without getting something from the grill. One popular entrée is the Coriander Sea Bass. This firm yet flaky, pan-seared Chilean fish came seasoned with a house blend of spices and was served alongside a portion of forbidden rice. The dish also came with baby bok choy that was cooked with sesame and a tart, citrusy sauce. There were a few more bones than I was expecting, but it was still a delicate preparation and a generous portion for the $20 price tag. Not so much a fish person, my favorite offering is the Grilled Beef Short Ribs. The ribs marinate all day in a chef-secret citrus sauce, and are finished with pepper, garlic and shallots. It comes served with garlic green beans and a slightly coconut-flavored saffron rice. It’s a steal at $15. The beef ribs, generally meatier than their pork counterparts, are melt-in-your-mouth tender and come thinly sliced into individual medallions. I know that you are supposed to delicately cut the meat away from the bone with a fork and knife, but order them yourself and see if you can resist using your fingers and gnawing off the last bit of meat with your front teeth. This one is also available as part of their lunch menu, in a bento combo with miso soup, salad and your choice of a California roll or fried shrimp rolls for $8.95.
This may be my new favorite downtown food destination. There are so many things I still need to try. I’m intrigued by the other offerings on the sushi menu, which seem to be available at any price range for both dinner and lunch. I also have yet to try the multiple varieties of rice noodle Pho offered. And, where I’m more of a soda-with-my-food kind of guy, Sapa touts an impressive wine list, as well as a selection of teas, sake, cocktails and several varieties of (mostly Asian) beer. I’m really impressed by the whole package. A restaurant with food and beverage menus this deeply steeped in Pan-Asian fare really is worth multiple visits.