From Vietnam to Boston, Sa Pa owner Ky Nguyen has always had a down-to-earth view on Vietnamese food—come to his restaurant, and one will see that he is down to cook it, too.
Born in Vietnam, but having grown up in Danvers, Mass., Nguyen has been influenced by both Vietnamese and American ideas of cuisine. “I’ve always wanted to do a Vietnamese concept,” Nguyen said. Sa Pa in Cleveland Circle moved to 1952 Beacon St. this past May. Sa Pa’s downtown location is Nguyen’s second restaurant, as he owns Kingston Station, a bistro in downtown Boston. A drastic change from classic bistro cuisine, Sa Pa is the best of two culinary universes. “I’ve kind of had both feet in both worlds growing up, so this is kind of a culmination of my upbringing,” Nguyen said.
The Sa Pa menu blends these two gastronomies into an accessible menu for all patrons, with “modern Western flavors” as well as “traditional eastern Vietnamese food,” according to Nguyen. The opening of a second Sa Pa location near Boston College has provided a welcome influx of students into the restaurant. While the downtown Sa Pa location is restricted to lunch-only hours, the Cleveland Circle restaurant attracts customers for lunch and dinner.
The higher percentage of college students dining at Sa Pa on Beacon St. has encouraged a significantly different model of restaurant. Aside from the new option for dinner at Sa Pa, the restaurant now features a beer and wine list along with menu items such as chicken wings with a Vietnamese spin. “More dinner, fun-like dishes” are what the restaurant has in store for students with perhaps more conservative palates, according to Nguyen. “It’s kind of a new concept, so I think a lot of people are a little hesitant to try it right off the bat,” Nguyen said. The power of word of mouth, especially on a college campus, has helped business steadily increase since May.
At a tasting event this past Friday, Nguyen had the chance to showcase his small, unique menu to some samplers. The event featured a choice of vegetarian or beef pho noodle soup, spring rolls, and pork and vegetarian eggrolls, along with some items that are not featured on the menu yet, like fiery sriracha-lime chicken wings. The pho noodle soup, which includes mouthwatering broth simmered for 24 hours and delectable braised beef, had a miso soup-flavor without the overwhelming saltiness.
This filling dish incorporates parsley and other Vietnamese herbs to give a slightly sweet flavor to the noodles and broth with just a hint of salt. The non-alcoholic drink selection offered at the tasting was comprised of Vietnamese iced coffee, chili mint limeade, and Thai iced tea. The limeade, at first, is just that—limeade. However, it evolves into something both minty and smoky, unlike any other citrus drink being concocted today. Along with the freshly picked feeling that the vegetable-filled spring rolls give, the pork eggrolls offer a rich, flaky option for an appetizer. For those who are feeling a little more adventurous, Sa Pa’s sriracha-lime chicken wings are a sizzling choice, and not for the faint of heart (or the taste buds). Even though the wings are spicy, they also pack a delicious, peppery punch.
Although Nguyen and his Sa Pa staff are still waiting to see how their more accessible Vietnamese endeavor turns out, they have high hopes for the future. “If people like the concept and the food works, I’m an ambitious person, so you’ll probably see more,” Nguyen said. After eating at Sa Pa, that should be music to any diner’s ears.
Featured Image Courtesy of Sa Pa