I toured the 2,000 sqft restaurant-to-be yesterday afternoon. Save for the wooden framing of the 12 seat bar and the dry-walled kitchen peekaboo pass there was very little to look at, leaving the distribution of the 50+ seats all to the imagination. I’m enthusiastic about the concept, which will see a chef-driven, idiosyncratic, modern take on the endless flavours, traditions and techniques of Southeast Asia.
The ownership group is made up of four friends: chefs Patrick Do and Kevin Lin, who will run the back and front of houses (respectively); actor/writer Nicholas Carey, who will be overseeing the bar; and actor/producer Osric Chau, who you might recognize from the show Supernatural. I’m a big fan of Patrick’s, whose food and cooking philosophy I’ve come to appreciate through both locations of his family’s modern and meatless Vietnamese Do Chay restaurants. I think it’s very fair to expect good things.
What’s in a name? The Saola is a forest-dwelling bovid antelope native to Vietnam and Laos. The beautiful beast (it looks like a cross between an Eland and a Bongo) is so rare that it is commonly referred to as the “Asian Unicorn”. This feels appropriately ambitious and totally on brand. The name is supported by a simple logo that traces the animal’s silhouette with a single line. As far as pronunciation goes, it’s “say ola”.
WHY IT MATTERS: With a new Broadway Subway station due in five years and less than a block away, we should operate under the assumption that the commercial core of the neighbourhood – Main & Broadway – will soon be assaulted by a wave of bad chain restaurants and coffee shops, for where Skytrain stations go, shit typically follows. Twas ever thus. A small, interesting, independent restaurant like this plants a flag and promises the kind of striving substance and locally-minded character the area is best known for.