Oasis Cafe: revisited with chef Sotelo

As I mentioned in our first review of Oasis Cafe I am anything but a morning person. If the four horsemen of the apocalypse came galloping through my bedroom in the morning, heralding the end of days, I’d probably ask them for just another hour. They’d be hard pressed to wake me too if they took offence. Understandably then, breakfast and brunch aren’t meals I often hit up. When I do, Oasis Cafe is generally at the top of my list.

Strangely then, I was recently musing why I had never really dined much at Oasis Cafe for dinner. The only reason I could come up with was some vague notion that the restaurant skewed more towards vegetarian and health cuisine. While that’s fine for some I’m a committed carnivore most days of the week; and when I’m dining out, calorie counts are quickly thrown out of the window.

A lot has seemingly changed over the past few years, at least as far as my own recollections of the Oasis Cafe menu was concerned. Under the guidance of Billy Sotelo (executive chef for the whole La Salle group including Oasis and Faustina) I was surprised by an increased eclecticism to the dishes and much more meat and fish dishes than I recalled from years gone by. Off to Oasis Cafe for dinner then!

The restaurant is the same cool, calm space it has always been – connected both physically and somewhat philosophically to the adjoining Golden braid books (also part of the La Salle Group). There’s patio dining on a long strip out front, a bright internal atrium space inside and waitstaff glide around in chic, matching black uniforms.

Evening meals start with complimentary focaccia, practically identical to Faustina’s presentation, and frankly, just as good with soft bread, fruity oil and zingy balsamic.

While nibbling on the bread, imbibers would do well to scan the beverage menu at Oasis Cafe. There’s a thoughtful array of wines, a full selection of liquor and a ton of beers, most skewing towards local brewers. An Epic Mid Mountain Mild Ale ($9, 1pt 6 fl oz, 5.0%ABV) and a Wasatch Hop Rising Double IPA ($5, 9%ABV) made their way to my table during our meal.

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With the tail end of summer still lingering on menus, it seemed rude not to sample the Oasis Gazpacho ($8). The two halves of red and green chilled soup came topped with a slice of buttery avocado and a couple of chilled prawns with an oh so smoky finish. A couple slices of cucumber completed this cool as you like summer dish.

Another appetizer I sampled was the tuna tartare, which regardless of being done to death (also perhaps literally at the expense of the poor tuna) I still love. Oasis Cafe’s presentation came with avocado, pesto, smoked paprika oil and way too few slices of crunchy crostini. I would have asked for more if it weren’t for the fact our waiter kept our focaccia bowl topped up. Seriously, I’m an Olympic grade bread eater.

Both appetizers were well executed, maybe a little top heavy on the price, but I couldn’t fault anything taste wise.

It was genuinely difficult to pick entrees from a menu stacked with so many tantalizing options. The first we chose sounded great on paper, Asian Glazed Shrimp ($18). Sadly it was better on paper than the plate. Perhaps it was an off night, end of the evening or someone had a few too cigarettes before service – but the citrus chili glaze on the prawns was close to inedible – incredibly bitter and cloyingly sweet. The dish also came with adequate stir fried vegetables and a basic egg fried rice. A real disappointment after such a great start.

Redemption was found in our second entree though, Grilled Wild Sea Bass ($21). An expertly cooked piece of bass sat on a pile of crushed yukon gold potatoes. The dish is finished with caper-mustard dressed greens. At first I thought the dish was under seasoned, but taking everything together in one bite was perfect – the acidity and saltiness from the dressing being a wonderful setup for the more neutral fish and potatoes. Suffices to say, this was gobbled down in no time.

Dessert proved to be just as much a dilemma as picking an entree. Even our waiter was hard pressed to pick a single personal favorite – so we ordered both. Lavender Infused Panna Cotta ($6) was silky smooth and had just the right amount of flowery flavor – some will love it, some will hate it. I’m in the pro-floral camp, so this got a huge thumbs up.

A classic Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee ($6) didn’t let us down either. What more can you ask from a creme brulee than a sugar coma hiding under a wickedly crispy shell – this had both, plus a chocolate espresso biscotti on the side. Spoons battled back and forth over both dishes, and we too, were unable to pick a favorite like our torn waiter.

Despite a brief flub on the prawn dish, and prices a smidgen high on some dishes, I was forced to reconsider my preconceived options about Oasis Cafe. Carnivores, omnivores and herbivores alike are all treated well here with a creative menu – that’s just as good for dinner, as it is brunch and breakfast.

Oasis Cafe
151 South 5th East Salt Lake City, UT 84102
(801) 322-0404

www.oasiscafeslc.com

About Stuart Melling

My high school English teacher once told me I was the most arrogant young man she had ever met. Food criticism seemed like a natural leap. Stuart is largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words he doesn't understand. Stuart is also a member of the Association of Food Journalists.

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