Had an excellent steak dinner at Sapa last Tuesday night. A terrific, I mean really terrific, perfectly seasoned and medium rare rib eye steak with steamed baby greens. I ate the leftovers the next night and had some to share with my neighbor who remarked how extra delicious it was. My dining companion that night had a dish comprised of Ahi Tuna with oxtail stew that was “amazing”.
Before I went, I had a more thorough look the menu online and thought, “Oy, what am I getting myself into?” Sapa features Vietnamese inspired cuisine, really not good for one who has nut and fish allergies. Ahem, that would be me. Even though I met the chef, Patricia Yeo, at NYDISH a couple of weeks back who said she would take care of me, I was still bit nervous. How would I find a dish without fish sauce. Or soy. Or wheat. In a Vietnamese-inspired restaurant? See what I mean?
It’s not fair really, to go into a resto whose cuisine’s main ingredients can make you really ill. And ask them to make you something without any of those ingredients. And then blame them if you get even the tiniest bit ill? Not fair at all which is why I don’t do it. I don’t frequent South East Asian restos or any other cuisine that features bases made from nuts or fish. [Yes, I study cuisines of the world in the my spare time.] I believe in giving everyone a fair shot: me to eat allergy-free, the kitchen to be able to make something allergy-free without too much trouble or bother. And for everyone to have a good time.
Back to Sapa . The spot on West 24th looks like a converted industrial space, as is typical of this area, the former and rapidly contracting flower district. The main room is large and cream colored. The front of the room, by the large bank of windows has low, inset couches, where you can order off the menu; there are cozy banquettes and tables set for two all throughout. Candlelight creates a shimmer that makes everyone look pretty and dewy. A white-lit raw bar anchors the room and often the Chef is prepping within the cube. The music is loud but not intrusive and the place was jammed. On a Tuesday. In February. That alone is impressive.
My fears about what I would eat were legitimized as I went through my spiel with my kind and patient waitress and she told me pretty much everything including most of the meats had a fish sauce marinade in their past. She went back to the kitchen with my requests and out came the manager, Adam, who said that the chef would happily make me some plain chicken or steak. I didn’t expect anything less; however, I did have a small inner sigh of oh darn I wish I could have the chef’s creation and not just a plain piece of steak.
The Chef was on the floor, prepping a yummy looking salad in the lit cube. I went over and thanked her for making me something allergen-free. She said it was not a bother but she had only wished I called earlier so she could prepare something more special. She said she had instructed her manager to call me on Saturday to send me a menu so I could have picked out what I wanted ahead of time. I had been called that morning to confirm the reservation but no menu had been offered nor discussed. Sounded like there was a minor communication breakdown. But it ended well as they were able to accommodate me with a wonderful allergy-free rib eye.
I feel obliged to mention how gracious, accommodating and almost maternal the chef’s attitude was. A meal is always better knowing there’s a caring restaurant behind it: from the reservationists, to the wait staff; to the manager, Adam, and the Chef, Ms. Yeo. Worth noting. Worth returning. And now I know if I want a great steak, allergen-free in a spot where I will look shimmery in the candlelight, I can happily add Sapa to that list.
PS Totally forgot to mention that at the end of the meal our server brought out a tray of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and brought them around to each table in her section. A post-meal treat from the Chef. Nice!