151 S. 500 East, Salt Lake City ; 801-322-0404
Breakfast, lunch and brunch are ideal times to go to this restaurant that has evolved from vegetarian and vegan to offering all proteins.
Cuisine: Vegetarian, Cafe
Hours: Su-Th, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; F-S, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Corkage: $ 7
Recommended Dishes: Oasis scramble, Mediterranean salad, tomato soup and grilled cheese combo.
December 4, 2008
Hit or miss solace at Oasis: Food and service can be inconsistent.
By Vanessa Chang
Grilled cheese and tomato soup exemplify the sort of comfort we seek year round, but especially this time of year when the chill sinks into your bones. Eaten by the spoonful or as a dip for the sandwich, the soup is nursery food that's still acceptable as adult fare.
The soup and sandwich combo makes a respectable, if not addictive, lunch at Oasis Café. The hot, tangy elixir comes in a generous bowl. Oasis manages to make a good thing even better with the judicious addition of pureed, roasted fennel to the acidic, slightly thick red mixture. The result: a subtle anise echo that renders the soup superior to its more insipid and paler counterparts served from kitchens (and cans) nationwide.
The sandwich arrives crustless with grill marks from proper toasting on occasion. On others, those marks are merely cosmetic on soggy bread. Either way, I'll take it.
Why such forgiving tendencies? One word: nostalgia. Not just for the soup combo ($8.20), but for the restaurant itself. It was one of the first restaurants I frequented as new Utah resident. The earth-toned expanse and subculture clientele made the tempeh and tofu all the more appealing.
The overall, waterfall-draped effect is still calming and draws in those seeking a venue for their weekly ritual of coffee with friends, Sunday brunch, or an alternative spot for lunch beneath the generous windows or, in nicer weather, in the inner courtyard complete with a fountain and gangs of finches.
Back then, vegetarian and vegan diners reigned supreme as nothing on the menu was derived from animal flesh. For the last seven years, owners Joel and Jill LaSalle have sustained the café's (and the adjacent and entertaining Golden Braid Bookstore's) quest for "health and balance" with chef Jared Young's menu saturated with unchanged favorites like a curried tofu wrap ($8.20). They've managed to keep Oasis' classics intact while simultaneously changing the foundation of the menu. Nowadays, the soy proteins and animal ones get equal billing on the menus.
This sort of change can be a welcome thing. But it doesn't always guarantee an outstanding product. The popular maple-glazed salmon ($16.50) features a soft pink fillet of Atlantic salmon overwhelmed by maple power. Sometimes, the fish is overcooked; sometimes it's perfect. Roast organic chicken ($16.25) arrived artfully arranged on a phyllo-based tart of mashed potatoes and sautéed mushrooms, but tasted muted under a heavy dose of balsamic reduction. Likewise, a stunning triple-play of beef tenderloin ($22.95) with mashed potatoes and chive oil was as subdued as the terra cotta hues on the walls. Chicken fajitas ($14.75) doused in a brick-red sauce lacked depth for the moist morsels.
Nostalgia can forgive some flaws, but service can be an issue. Oasis has a core team of seasoned pros who are efficient and friendly.
Sometimes they chat with you as they refill a morning intake of caffeine or remain unobtrusive as you have a weekly lunch date with friends. Get anyone else and it's a crapshoot -- will it be attitude or an offering of more water? Will the bill be handled in good time for you to make it back to your desk? The good servers make sure you try the coconut panna cotta ($6) served in a snifter glass, topped with passion fruit gelee and shards of crunchy desiccated coconut; they also steer you clear of the mealy texture and unpleasant flavor of the chocolate mousse ($6). They can also describe the concise wine list featuring organic and biodynamic labels such as a fruity, almost dessert-like 2006 Ceago Chardonnay ($35 a bottle).
Breakfast is served until 2:30 p.m. alongside the lunch menu so that anyone can indulge in the French toast ($7.85) while a companion savors a Mediterranean salad ($11.75) of mixed greens, hummus, creamy, mild feta and Kalamata olives. Grilled Yukon golds lend some gravitas and uniqueness to the dish.
Breakfast, brunch and lunch are the best times to go. That's when you can try the daily frittatas (A.Q.) and the classic German blueberry pancake ($7.75). Of course, it's also grilled cheese time. And how you eat it is up to you.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
September 28, 2005
Oasis goes mainstream with expanded menu Oasis for vegans, carnivores
By Nancy Hobbs
When Joel and Jill LaSalle made an offer to buy the holistic Golden Braid Bookstore four years ago, they hoped to wriggle out of acquiring the adjacent Oasis Cafe. The last thing he wanted was a "brown food" diner, Joel says, recalling his dismissive attitude about legume-laden vegan and vegetarian cuisine.
The owners refused to sell one without the other, however, and as fate would have it, the restaurant side of things has become Joel's passion.
"I literally have fallen in love with this business. I'm having a ball with it."
Of course, success helps fuel those flames, and the LaSalles are enjoying a healthy 35 percent increase in business at Oasis.
A big boost in that hike came in the recent months, after some remodeling, including sprucing up the large, inviting courtyard with fountains and baskets of flowers everywhere, as well as a major revision of the dinner menu to infuse more variety -- including several non-vegetarian items. Oasis' loyal vegan and vegetarian
customers haven't been forfeited; instead, the menu has been expanded so that friends and family of devoted patrons can join them in their dining pleasure.
For those of us who also put a high priority on food that's visually appealing, Oasis gets high marks as well.
The spinach salad ($9.75) is an artful combination of flavors, arriving as a "nest" of whole radicchio leaves cradling baby spinach and spring greens tossed with a luscious cranberry vinaigrette. Dried cranberries, candied pine nuts and Gorgonzola maximize texture and taste.
Chef Jared Young got a hard-core lesson on plate presentation when he worked at San Francisco's renowned Aqua several years ago, while attending the California Culinary Academy.
"If it wasn't perfect, you got screamed at, first of all, and then had to redo it," he recalled.
An important component of each of Young's artful dishes at Oasis is his canvas of different-shaped plates. The pad Thai ($14.50), cooked with chicken or shrimp in addition to tofu, is served on a square white plate with pink-tinged rice noodles and little mounds of chives, diced egg yolks, chopped peanuts, bean sprouts and a dusting of paprika on the edges.
An oval plate is the frame for blackened shrimp on mesclun greens served at lunch ($10.25), with a generous amount of the spicy crustaceans and an garnish of cornbread crumbs and crumbled Gorgonzola. The brown butter and orange sauce, delicious with its pepper and paprika spicing, complemented the greens and shrimp, but the sweetness of the cornbread topping was a competing distraction.
That same sauce and a square of cornbread join seared ahi tuna for dinner ($16.25), where the combination of flavors wasn't nearly as distracting, and the side of spiced pecans was a treat.
For his "oceans martini" appetizer ($8.95), Young starts with a stemmed martini glass and layers it with thin strips of cucumbers marinated in a ginger-sesame vinaigrette, shrimp, crab, slices of fresh mango and avocado. Besides being attractive, Young doesn't skimp on the seafood, making the cost reasonable.
Service on both visits was less than perfect, with slight
annoyances like the server asking who ordered what as food was brought to the table, and another server arriving with our dinner entrees before the table had been cleared of appetizer plates.
Everyone at the table scrambled to stack and move the used plates so the server could set our entrees down.
Dinner ended on a sweet note, with a couple of desserts that take advantage of Utah's fall harvest. The mix of apples in the apple pie ($6) was cooked in an individual crust that was sturdy enough to hold its own, but a bit tough. It was served with cinnamon whipped cream and cherry sauce that added sweetness as well as a bit of color.
A saffron poached pear ($6) was filled with a light pink
peppercorn cream that oozed from the pear's center when cut. The pink peppercorns, which are actually pricey dried berries from roses cultivated in Madagascar, gave the sauce a bit of floral spice. The desserts were garnished with a hazelnut brittle and dark chocolate-covered pistachios, respectively, a touch of the nuttiness
that Young adds to many of Oasis' sweet and savory dishes.
As long as the weather stays comfortable, most diners at Oasis will continue to be drawn to the serene courtyard. Even with a slight chill, tables close to the tiled outdoor fireplace will no doubt be the hot seats during breakfast and dinner hours. The indoor dining remains inviting, with a spacious dining room that's made more intimate by night with linen-topped tables and subtle light cast by paper lanterns.