Dine or Dash: Saola

A Starry Night of Sophistication, Balance and Refined Flavors at Saola

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Dine or Dash: Saola

The lychee cosmo and lemongrass mojito at Saola, which serves Asian cuisine in Cottonwood Heights (Photo by Kate Button | Daily Utah Chronicle)

The lychee cosmo and lemongrass mojito at Saola, which serves Asian cuisine in Cottonwood Heights (Photo by Kate Button | Daily Utah Chronicle)

The lychee cosmo and lemongrass mojito at Saola, which serves Asian cuisine in Cottonwood Heights (Photo by Kate Button | Daily Utah Chronicle)

The lychee cosmo and lemongrass mojito at Saola, which serves Asian cuisine in Cottonwood Heights (Photo by Kate Button | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kate Button, Arts Writer

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Stepping into Saola, a recently opened new Asian restaurant in Cottonwood Heights,  I was immediately transported to a new world. Filled with gold accents, marble tabletops, pink neon lights and the aromas of delicious food cooking, I knew my time at Saola would be well spent. 

 

The Ingredients

The interior of Saola in Cottonwood Heights (Photo by Kate Button | Daily Utah Chronicle)

While the decor of the restaurant showcases a more sophisticated air, the food is the true standout. Saola, which translates to “rare star,” embraces the rarity of their new and modern takes on various Asian cuisines — including influences from Vietnam, China, Korea, Singapore and more. 

Diem Nguyen and her husband Tuan Vu founded Saola as their last main project before retiring. The couple also owns Pho Thin, located in Sugarhouse, and they previously owned Indochine, another Asian restaurant that was located at the bottom of Presidents’ Circle until they sold it in 2018. With Saola, Nguyen wanted to have “one last adventure” in the restaurant industry. While growing up, Nguyen always said that she would never work in a restaurant, but now after 20 years in the business, it is easy to see her passion for bringing people together over a shared meal. “The only thing that helps you survive in this industry is passion,” Nguyen said. Although this restaurant was originally inspired by Vietnamese street food, Saola elevates these influences and brings them to new levels, truly leaning into their own “rare star” elements.

With everything from pho and sushi to curries and banh mi sandwiches, there is truly something to satisfy every palate. To begin the night, my friend and I tried the pagoda roll and citrus slaw. The pagoda roll was light, yet just filling enough with its use of tofu. Then the citrus slaw — full of grapefruit, jicama and mint — served as a great palate cleanser and was beautifully refreshing.

Next, as we moved into the entrée round, we ordered the Everest roll, the imperial roll and the tao roll, and we tried their vegan pho. As a vegetarian, I was happy to see so many options that cater to more restricted diets, and with my friend alongside me, it was clear to see that the vegan and vegetarian items were executed at the same high quality as the other menu items. The tao roll elegantly paired the tempura vegetables with avocado and a spicy sauce to truly round out a wide range of textures within a single bite. As our waiter pointed out, each item on the menu is designed by Nguyen and Vu to have “sweet, savory and spicy elements in one dish.” Then, as I dug into the vegan pho, I was surprised at just how crispy the tofu remained despite being submerged in a ginger broth. Full of vegetables and topped with aromatics, this pho felt like the perfect thing to have whether you’re recovering from a cold or if you have just wrapped up a day of skiing. The perfected blend of flavors that Saola provides is extended into their cocktails — we tried their lychee cosmo and lemongrass mojito, which only further demonstrated this restaurant’s ability to perfectly refine intricate flavors.

To round out the night, we enjoyed the affogato vietnamita. With Vietnamese coffee poured over vanilla ice cream with condensed milk, this dessert was the perfect end to the night. Its mix of a traditional Italian recipe with Vietnamese ingredients again spoke to Saola’s unique recipe craftmanship.   

 

The Verdict

Vegan pho at Saola (Photo by Kate Button | Daily Utah Chronicle)

In case it wasn’t clear, my time at Saola was filled with delicious food that was beautifully comforting and refreshing. The entrées were incredibly filling — we had lots of leftovers to look forward to — and they were balanced through their usage of traditional vegetables and spices. 

While the interior of Saola felt a bit more upscale than what I was expecting, the pricing for all their meals was very reasonable given the quality and quantity of food provided. Most entrée dishes were in the $15-25 range and each of the sushi rolls clock in around $10 apiece. 

For students living in Salt Lake City, Saola might be slightly out of the way, but the drive is definitely worth it. If you are a commuter student, or you’re driving back after a day of skiing, Saola is the perfect place to grab some quality food. 

Complete with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, Saola beautifully caters to individuals with special diets while still providing high-quality options that showcase their blend of sweet, savory and spicy elements within each bite.

 

Recommendations

As Nguyen and Vu already own Pho Thin, they have clearly mastered their pho recipe, and I loved the vegan pho that I had as my entree. The pagoda roll was a great, light appetizer, and I would definitely order the tao roll again as it elegantly showcases Saola’s balance of sweet, savory and spicy elements. If you can’t handle the spice, there are plenty of other options available. Then, with courses that cater to various dietary restrictions, I’m sure you can find something here to love. 

 

5/5 stars

Saola is located at 7307 S Canyon Center Parkway, Cottonwood Heights, UT 84121.

Dine in and takeout at saola-slc.com

 

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@kateabutton