Sunday, May 16, 2021
May 16, 2021

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New Vancouver restaurant Saap fusing flavors, talents

Spanish-Asian restaurant first foray into dining by developer

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Bartender Kegan Duz-Aguilar and bar manager Oula Thepsouvanh prepare mint leaves for the afternoon rush at Saap Fusion Kitchen at Grand Central Retail Center in Vancouver. The restaurant recently opened in the space formerly occupied by Lapellah and has been transformed thanks to $500,000 in renovations.
Bartender Kegan Duz-Aguilar and bar manager Oula Thepsouvanh prepare mint leaves for the afternoon rush at Saap Fusion Kitchen at Grand Central Retail Center in Vancouver. The restaurant recently opened in the space formerly occupied by Lapellah and has been transformed thanks to $500,000 in renovations. (Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

After developing many properties in the area, Ryan Hurley wants to fill some of these spaces with people food and drink. His first foray into the restaurant business is Saap, a Spanish-Asian fusion restaurant at Grand Central Retail Center in the space formerly occupied by Lapellah.

Fusion cuisine appeals to Hurley, who is president of Hurley Development. He said it leaves room for creativity and allows him to create something that hasn’t already been done.

“We wanted to take a concept that brought culture and life and food together and make it accessible to all ages and all walks of life,” he said. He believes customers expect certain things from a restaurant tied to just one type of cuisine. “Fusion allows a broad open forum,” he said. “You can take certain risks that a specific genre can’t take,” he said.

Saap Fusion Kitchen is just the beginning of Hurley’s move into the restaurant business. He’s interested in opening five more fusion restaurants in Hurley Development properties. To make this happen, he assembled a team — Bobby Rasaphangthong, third generation restaurateur and owner of NOM NOM Restaurant; Keith Belter, general manager formerly at Little Conejo; Chef Kyle Griffith, executive chef with decades of experience most recently at Hey Jack in downtown Camas; and bar director Oula Thepsouvanh, another experienced professional who most recently worked as a bartender at NoMad in Las Vegas.

At Saap, the term Spanish really means Latin and more specifically Mexican. Chips and salsa are served with a lychee salsa that also tops the quesadillas. Street tacos come with an Asian slaw in addition to the traditional pico de gallo. Many menu items, like the Saap bowl with lemongrass rice, veer toward Southeast Asian, which is fitting because Saap translates as “tasty” in Laotian.

In addition to this mix of Mexican and Southeast Asian flavors, vegetables feature prominently in each dish. The menu on the restaurant’s website has symbols designating vegan and gluten free dishes — 95 percent of the menu items fit within these categories. The menu is also dairy-free, although Griffith plans on adding some dairy back onto the menu specifically for the quesadillas. He tried several vegan cheeses for this plate but wasn’t happy with the result. All dishes are $15 or less, except for the smoked pork tenderloin ($17) and aleppo filet of beef ($18).

There’s also a kids menu with things like wok-tossed sweet potato noodles with veggies and fried chicken on a bed of lemongrass jasmine rice.

Bar Director Thepsouvanh returned to her hometown of Portland from Las Vegas. Before that, she was the mixologist at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. For Thepsouvanh, the opportunity to develop a bar program and be part of a team that creates other fusion restaurants was irresistible. Since moving back, she’s gone to cocktail bars in Vancouver to get a sense of local taste.

The seven signature cocktails she created for Saap include many surprises like His & Hers, a pisco sour with raspberry syrup, and Kiss Me, described as “like a mojito meets a strawberry and balsamic salad.” Kiss Me was inspired by a refreshing strawberry balsamic salad Thepsouvanh ate at a wedding. Following Saap’s theme of making something for everyone, every cocktail on the menu can be made as a mocktail. There’s also a rotating bartender’s whim mocktail on the menu.

On opening weekend, the smoked old fashioned was a surprise hit. Thepsouvanh didn’t think customers would want a smoky, stout-infused drink in hot weather, but its dramatic presentation may have caused cocktail FOMO (fear of missing out). For this drink, smoke is made at the bar using a smoking gun filled with applewood chips. The server opens the smoke-filled decanter tableside allowing the smoke to billow out into the drink.

For those who dined at Lapellah, the restaurant formerly in this space, visiting Saap will be surprising. Hurley spent $500,000 to renovate the space to fit within his vision. The interior has been opened up and the walls painted white, giving the place a fresh vibrant feel. A galaxy of bobbing lights have been added to the small room to the right of the entrance that’s been renamed the constellation room. The outside area has a large fire pit surrounded by chairs for patrons to sip a cocktail or make s’mores. Tables fill the rest of the open air space for those who prefer to dine outdoors or for patrons that want to hang out after dining indoors.

Takeout from Saap is limited for now. The restaurant recently opened and the team wants to get their on-site dining down before expanding takeout. They will soon ramp up takeout by working with DoorDash and opening online ordering through their website.

After Saap is established, Hurley, Rasaphangthong, Belter, Griffith, and Thepsouvanh will move on to their next fusion concept restaurant. Hurley has some ideas about the types of cuisines he’d like to mix for these future restaurants, but at the moment that information remains top secret.

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