Dining | Shift Happens: At Park City’s Wahso, small plates and small prices give the heave-ho to extravagance 

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I still remember vividly the Friday night nearly a decade ago when Wahso Asian Grill opened its doors for business in Park City. Although electricians were scurrying about attending to last-minute wiring fixes and owner Bill White himself was adding finishing touches to his hand-selected décor, the food that very first night was close to flawless, the service superb and the restaurant itself an absolute eye-popper.

Through the years, I’ve been back to Wahso a handful of times, especially when I want to impress out-of-town guests with a restaurant that I think, from a design and décor standpoint, is one of this country’s most beautiful. But as prices crept up into the stratosphere (even by Park City standards), I found myself steering away from Wahso more often than not. Sorry, but $48 for Szechuan duck breast—even with foie gras pineapple fried rice—just seemed a tad extravagant to me, if not to the high rollers who fill Wahso and the other fancy Park City restaurants during the winter season.

So maybe the best way to describe a recent return visit to Wahso is “shock and awe.” As always, I was in awe of this restaurant’s exquisite splendor. Talk about an escape! Wahso delivers a perfect blend of dining sophistication and comfort—all in a truly gorgeous setting—that is very, very rare. It is, I think, the pinnacle of White’s restaurant kingdom. So yes, I was in jaw-dropping awe, just like every time I walk into this magnificently appointed Asian eatery.

But it wasn’t until after I sat down to peruse the newly revamped Wahso menu that the shock set in. It was sticker shock, of sorts. Were my eyes deceiving me? Almost overnight, Wahso had gone from being one of the priciest restaurants in all of Utah to being one of the most economical, at least in Park City. If you’ve ever spent any time with Bill White, you know he’s a whirling dervish of activity; the guy simply never rests. And he always seems to be a step or five ahead of his competition. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that, seeing hard economic times encroaching on even the Park City upper crust, he’d take swift and decisive action.

It’s a bold move to throw out most of the $40 to $50 entrée-focused menu at Wahso and reinvent it as a “small plates” eatery. But that’s where White’s new value-based menu strategy has taken him. At a restaurant where appetizers used to range from $15 to $19, those starters have been replaced by an Asian “tapas” selection, priced at $8.95 each or three for $24. Soups—including cucumber and tomato summer gazpacho, Vietnamese seafood pho and a fragrant Thai broth called tom kha ghai—each are priced at a mere $4.95. Salads are $6.95 each, and include a watercress-and-Asian-nashi-pear salad with crumbled Roquefort, walnuts and tamarind vinaigrette, as well as three more options including a luscious Thai-style beef salad made with grilled filet mignon, glass noodles, cucumber, tomatoes and a zippy sambal-and-garlic dressing. You could easily make a nice meal out of one of the Asian tapas and a soup or salad and get out of Wahso with a bill that tops out around $15 to $17 (minus drinks, of course). Walk into Wahso with a two-for-one coupon and, well, you’ve just committed highway robbery. And remember, this is in a restaurant that feels like you should have to pay a cover charge just to come through the doors.

Along with the new tapas menu, Wahso is also sporting an innovative new drink selection composed by Mike Brown and Al Viny, featuring summer cocktails as well as wine and sake flights. My current favorite summer sipper is the Green Tea Energizer, made with Zen Green Tea liqueur, Caravella Limoncello and topped off with Voss’ “G Pure” Energy Green Tea refresher. The Energizer tastes great with chef Ryan Burnham’s ahi tuna and mango tartare tapa with ginger juice and wasabi cream. Another fragrant, fresh summer small plate is the green papaya roll, made with green papaya, avocado and julienned veggies rolled in rice paper and served with a sweet chili dipping sauce. With the Togarashi seared Kobe carpaccio, I’d be tempted to sip one of Wahso’s new wine flights ($9 to $11): maybe “Reds of the New World,” or perhaps “Gone Sideways,” which is a tour of domestic and French Pinot Noir. The “Tour de Latour” is another good one—a selection of Louis Latour Burgundies.

I found at Wahso that a combination of three small plates for $24 makes a perfect summer meal. The portions are more generous than you might expect of something called “small plates,” especially the scrumptious Korean barbecued ribs, which was three individual ribs, each propped up against a dish of three unique regional versions of kimchee. Other good tapas options include pad Thai, tempura soft shell crab, a stir-fry of the day, chicken-stuffed lettuce cups with peanut sauce and the clever miniature hibachi trio. It consists of shrimp, chicken and beef satay served on an actual mini-hibachi with a luscious ginger-teriyaki glaze.

The shift to lower prices aside, Wahso service is dependably top quality, thanks to hospitality director/manager Lawrence Acedo and stellar servers such as Steve Crowell, a duo I’d build my service team around if I ever were to open a restaurant. But then, that’s not likely to happen. ’Cause I pity the fool who enters the restaurant ring with a savvy shape shifter like Bill White.

WAHSO ASIAN GRILL 577 Main, Park City. Summer hours: Dinner Wednesday-Sunday From 6 p.m. 435-615-0300, Wahso.com

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