Note: SAPA closed during the summer of 2008. The space re-opened as Nuela.
The restaurant SAPA’s blurb on the OpenTable website leads you to expect that shotgun wedding of culinary styles that is usually called “fusion”:
Sapa; it’s namesake, an incredibly picturesque village that lies on the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in NW Vietnam, was built by the French in 1922. Sapa marries the two cuisines under one roof, but not on the plate. The food embodies modern interpretations of Vietnamese dishes with an emphasis on share styled plates as to conform to the Vietnamese style dining and the French cuisine expresses versions of classic bistro and brasserie dishes.
The menu has evidently undergone some refinement since Frank Bruni was there in January 2005. Its length so offended him that it became the theme of his review, “So Many Dishes! A Little Help, Please.” As presented last night, SAPA’s menu did not appear overly long, and some of the specific dishes mentioned in the review are now gone. The alleged French bistro/brasserie influence is largely a phantom. Actually, I had forgotten Bruni’s review entirely, but I was looking for a dining spot in Chelsea on a Sunday evening, and SAPA caught my eye.
The gorgeous AvroKo-designed space is modern, sleek, and sexy. You know you’re in for an Asian-themed eclectic menu when you find both chopsticks and Western utensils at the table. To start, I decided to try the Spicy Tuna Rolls ($10). There were two rolls, about three-inches long and as thick as a cigar, and they came with three dipping sauces. Perhaps “tangy” would have been a better name than “spicy,” but whatever the name they were very good.
I was even more impressed with Cod Roasted in Parchment ($32). You expect fish cooked in parchment to retain its moisture (as this one did), but you don’t expect the combination with porcini butter, roasted mushrooms, and pureed potato to deliver such an effective flavor punch. This was one of the more delightful fish preparations I’ve had in quite some time.
My friend had a duck salad ($12) and stir-fry chicken ($25), and she appeared to be equally satisfied. Service was friendly and efficient. The restaurant appeared to be doing a decent business for a Sunday night, although they were well under half full.
SAPA (43 W. 24th Street, east of Sixth Avenue, Chelsea)