Recent bit of mind-blowing info to share: unicorns exist. Uh huh. Saola (sow-lah) are a dainty, spiral-horned wonder of a deer-like critter native to the forests of Vietnam and Laos. They’re almost extinct, very elusive, and have two horns that kinda look like a single one in profile. Called the “Asian unicorn” due to their extreme rarity, the formerly presumed mythological saola was verified by scientists as the distinct species pseudoryx nghetinhensis as recently as 1992. (Mother Nature’s still got some cool secrets up her sleeve.) Spotting a saola is considered a harbinger of good luck.
It's fitting, then, that restaurateur Diem Nguyen and her husband/co-owner Chef Tuan Vu have developed their stunningly styled Vietnamese restaurant with the same, magical moniker.
With very real culinary cred established at their previous ventures -- the Nguyen family opened Cafe Trang in 1987, and Nguyen and Vu are the masterminds behind Pho Thin in Sugarhouse and Indochine (recently sold to new owners) -- the pair developed Saola to express the depth and breadth of Vietnam’s dynamic food culture. Nguyen explains that the fine dining cuisine of Vietnam’s three regions is showcased at Saola using locally sourced, high-quality ingredients. Think fresh, seasonal veggies, free-range chicken and all of the noodle dishes can be prepared with a gluten-free Shirataki yam noodle option upon request.
Smartly situated at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon, Saola’s become a neighborhood lifesaver for business lunch and family-friendly (open Sundays!) options with their Vietnamese street-food inspired selections. Loaded banh mi sandwiches, generous salads, traditional Vietnamese skewer platters, and truly tasty pho. Locals in the know linger in the super-stylish cushy lounge with a refreshing cocktail and a flavorful starter like banh tu xyuen (pork and shrimp Sichuan dumplings) or goi cuon chay (a fresh veggie-and herb dense vermicelli Pagoda Roll).
Prediction: we'll be spending plenty of apres ski time in this clean and cozy spot come winter.
The dinner menu features Vietnamese fine-dining flourishes with global flavors; the late summer line-up sports delights like gingery steamed Chilean Seabass, Bahn Xeo sizzling crepes, a vegan Mekong Curry, and Shanghai garlic noodles served up with your choice of prawns, steak or (hell yes) soft shell crab.
The real show-stopper of the space (besides the food itself, which is fabulous, full stop) is the swanky dining room designed by COLLECTIVE friends Rachel Hodson and Gary Vlasic. Hodson and Vlasic’s choices read as nuanced, textured, vibrant, and drop-dead sexy. Incorporating zippy touches like hot pink neon, bright brass accents and deeply-hued textile elements sourced directly from Vietnam. And the vintage album cover poster on the east wall? That bouffant babe is none other than Diem Nguyen’s mother, Thao Truong, who was a famous singer in 1960s Vietnam.
The Saolo experience is (in a word) magical. a unicorn, indeed.
Saola | 7307 Canyon Center Pkwy | 801.944.2949