On a recent Sunday evening, I visited Saap Fusion Kitchen, which opened earlier this year in the space at Grand Central Retail Center that housed Lapellah for 12 years.
Though Lapellah lost some of its luster after Chef David Mork left, many locals still have fond memories of lingering over roasted beets or grilled steak salad made with ingredients sourced from local farms. I arrived without any nostalgia for the restaurant that had closed. I wasn’t seeking Lapellah 2, but something new and interesting.
Owned by Ryan Hurley of Hurley Development and Bobby Rasaphangthong of Nom Nom Restaurant and Grill, Saap promises Latin-Asian fusion. On my visit, my date and I practically had the restaurant to ourselves. As the meal progressed, I began to see why.
The night started out promising. Saap’s owners opened up and brightened the space by taking down a wall and adding white paint. The space felt fresh and airy — a change from the dark wood tones of the previous restaurant.
The meal started well. Oula Thepsouvanh’s cocktails were the highlight of the evening. We ordered a His & Hers ($15) with pisco, yuzu liqueur and raspberry syrup, as well as a Dolce Passione ($15) with vodka, cava, passionfruit and vanilla. Both drinks tasted fresh and well-balanced.
The menu includes shared plates, salads, sides and mains. For starters, we ordered the ahi tuna poke ($17) and wagyu meatballs ($17).
The ahi tuna poke arrived with chilled cubes of ahi and bits of avocado sprinkled with sesame seeds resting on cups of butter lettuce on top of a swirl of a smoky chile sauce — a refreshing dish with a nice mix of flavors.
The wagyu meatballs, however, were a cluster of flavorless, spongy rounds of meat coated in a sticky sauce with the strong artificial sweetness and aftertaste of Splenda.
For entrees, we chose the Saap fried chicken ($18), pork shoulder ($22) and tacos ($19 for three tacos).
The Saap fried chicken and pork shoulder each came with tender jasmine rice along with steamed half-moons of zucchini and small cubes of sweet potatoes. Both proteins were dry and tough, unredeemed by coatings of cloyingly sweet sauces. The vegetables were flavorless.
Then came the tacos, offered with chicken, shrimp or vegan chorizo. We decided on shrimp. Three tacos arrived at the table stuffed with shredded cabbage. After taking a couple of bites and not finding any shrimp, I opened the taco and found four small, rubbery chunks buried at the bottom of the slaw.
After picking at our food for a while, the waiter arrived with a dessert menu. Desserts included a sake-kasu flan, mochi fruit crumble, almond cake and seasonal sorbet with sesame brittle. At that point, I’d lost my appetite and enthusiasm for trying anything else on the menu.
I left feeling disappointed and confused. This space was tastefully renovated. The cocktails looked and tasted top notch. Why didn’t the food match the high quality of everything else at Saap? I hope it catches up soon.