LOCATION: 722 State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
A few weeks ago, I was back in the Salt Lake City area to hang out with my friend Tina for a few days. Both of us are really big into sushi, and she suggested we check out a spot she had recently been to. So after dropping off my stuff at the house, we were back on the road making our way to Sapa.
I will say that there is a really tiny parking lot for this place (I’m guessing the rest was up to street parking), and we were very lucky that someone was pulling out of the full lot just as we were arriving. From the outside, these large, old-school wooden doors were fashioned on the side of a building that otherwise looked pretty modern. But the atmosphere once you stepped inside was totally different than what I was expecting.
The woodwork that made up the various partitions around the main dining area incorporated these elegant lattice patterns that you might find inside a Japanese home. But while the ornate dark cherry wood pieces helped to provide that traditional interior look, the beautiful glass-blown lamps suspended from the ceiling provided a red and orange hue to the space, and added a modern flair to the décor.
What Tina and I found out, however, is that separate from the main dining area (which also housed the sushi bar) was another bar / lounge type area that was only admitted to the 21+ crowd. Accessed through this over-sized sliding wooden door, this second space had more of a “modern industrial” vibe to it. More glass lamps were hung from the ceiling, reminiscent of the old-style gas lamps. Exposed brick lined one side of the dining space, and there were blue velvet lounge chairs set up in a spot closer to the bar. The wall behind the bar had shelves stocked up with liquor that were backlit with a blue hue. Two different dining spaces, two contrasting themes that made them distinct in their own ways.
After hanging out in the lounge area for probably 15 – 20 minutes, we ended up getting seated at a two-top not even 10 feet away from where we had been. Despite being just walk-ins, I was actually surprised at how quickly we were able to get seated for a Friday night service. I guess we just got lucky, just like we had with the parking situation too. (By the time we were leaving, the waiting area was jam-packed, and I overheard it was a minimum of a 45-minute wait.)
The always difficult task of choosing which sushi rolls to order was made even more challenging with a menu boasting 34 different options to choose from. The other plate that we had already locked in was the Boneless Short Ribs, which Tina had tried before on a previous visit. It took probably another five minutes of perusing the sushi menu, but we ended up coming to a consensus on sharing the Imperial and E. Brooklyn Rolls.
One thing that did surprise me as I looked through the sushi options was just the fact of how inexpensive they were. The most expensive roll topped off at $13, while the other end of the spectrum was only at $7. For a place situated right in the city, those prices were phenomenal. I would have readily expected those “special” rolls to come in at closer to $16 per plate.
The sushi chefs were clearly on their game that night, because I felt like we didn’t have to wait very long at all before our two rolls showed up at the table. Visually, the rolls were spot-on: bright colors and each piece was neatly stacked with its respective toppings. I could certainly appreciate the clean and consistent look that helps remind me that sushi plating really is an art.
The short rib entrée that Tina and I were sharing wasn’t too far behind our plate of sushi. I started off by trying a piece of the Imperial Roll, which had crab, shrimp tempura, cucumber, and avocado on the inside, topped with spicy tuna, scallions, masago, and some panko flakes. I really liked the crunch you would get from the shrimp tempura and cucumber on the inside, while the spicy tuna provided that rich, savory flavor to complement the other ingredients. But as it turns out, it was the E. Brooklyn Roll that was my favorite of the two.
Fish and citrus make for a great flavor combination (take salmon and lemon, for example), so the thin slice of lime adorned on the top of each piece of the E. Brooklyn I thought really took it to a different level. That bright, sour flavor worked so well with the spicy tuna, spicy crab, masago, scallions, cucumber, and avocado that made up the rest of the roll. Each piece just felt like a complete bite from a flavor profile perspective.
Special mention as well to the boneless short ribs, which were thinly sliced and grilled a little bit more to get that nice char on the edges. Each piece had a really nice blend of umami and slightly sweet flavor to them. I’m also normally not a string bean type of person, but the ones that came with the short ribs were pretty tasty as well, finished with some sort of sweet sauce that made me keep going back for more.
I knew that the weekend was going to be filled with lots of food excursions, and starting things off with a sushi outing at Sapa really hit the spot. Even with how flavorful and well-priced the sushi was, it was the ambiance that really impressed me the most. It was a beautiful space, and you could tell that a lot of time and effort had been put into crafting that dining atmosphere. If you are looking for a sushi spot near the downtown Salt Lake City area, do not overlook this gem that might look unassuming from the outside. Once you step through those large wooden doors, you’re in for a treat.
Let’s now take a look at the Sapa Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** E. Brooklyn Roll (pictured right) **
Spicy tuna, cucumber, and avocado on the inside, topped with spicy crab, masago, scallions, and lime.
And finally, here are my rankings for Sapa:
Food: 5 / 5
There is plenty of diversity between the 34 different sushi options available, where you can spend quite a few visits sampling new rolls. The quality of the two sushi rolls that we got was excellent, with intriguing flavor profiles that certainly felt well-balanced. I also appreciated the presentation of the rolls, with the plating and attention to detail on each individual piece. The boneless short ribs also came in with some really good flavors as well.
Atmosphere: 5 / 5
What more can I say about the atmosphere? It is an absolutely beautiful space, blending Asian interior décor elements with a touch of modern influence. The main dining area and the bar / lounge area had two contrasting themes that gave each its own distinct feel.
Service: 4.5 / 5
Our waiter, Terry, did a good job of circling back to our table throughout the meal to ask how things were. Despite how full the restaurant was, our food arrived to the table relatively quickly, which speaks to how efficient the sushi chefs and kitchen staff were.
Price: 4.75 / 5
I was fully expecting the $15 or $16 sushi rolls after seeing how nice the restaurant was as well as the location near downtown Salt Lake City. But to see that the most expensive roll only topped off at $13, now that was a really pleasant surprise. The only slight mark against the pricing was of the boneless short rib entrée, which came in at $17. I thought for the quantity of meat you got, however, it was priced a bit high.