This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For good or bad, Asian food is typically considered inexpensive in America. Whether it's heaping plates of orange chicken or steaming bowls of pho, value often is the overarching factor when selecting a restaurant.
SOMI Vietnamese Bistro in the trendy Sugar House neighborhood in Salt Lake City is throwing out those preconceived notions with an Asian-fusion menu made with high-quality ingredients, but it comes with sticker shock.
While the soup, vermicelli and rice sections hover in the $10-12 range, a reasonable price for a sit-down restaurant, the main dishes spike to nearly $30 in some cases. The question becomes: Is the food worth the price?
If I am looking for a $27 filet mignon, I will go to a steakhouse. Despite this, the shaking beef (bo luc lac, $27) was deliciously marinated, making each bite velvety tender. It was delivered searing hot from the wok, but aside from the stir-fried onions that mingled with the steak, the only accompaniments were a few fresh cucumber slices and lettuce leaves.
And as much as I love creamy honey walnut shrimp, the jumbo crustaceans encased in sugary goodness served with some candied walnuts and bok choy and asparagus on the side are not worth $23.
Not everything on SOMI's menu is overpriced. For $12, the SOMI vermicelli noodles are delivered with three flavor-packed proteins (chicken, pork and short ribs), as well as fresh bean sprouts, pickled daikon and carrots and a crispy spring roll all kicked up with a chile vinaigrette dressing.
The tender, boneless short ribs, an option on the vermicelli and rice dishes, are not to be missed. The soy marinade gives depth to the meat while complementing the fresh and pickled vegetables. For a nonmeat option, the lightly fried tofu on the vegetarian vermicelli ($10) soaked up all the right flavors from the surrounding ingredients.
Also affordable are the three types of Vietnamese pho, including the generously sized SOMI noodle soup (pho dac biet, $12) with a beef trio of flank, brisket and meatballs, and a broth that was earthy and comforting. There also is a vegetarian option (pho rau, $10).
SOMI offers daily lunch specials between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., with primarily Americanized Chinese offerings. They cost between $9 and $13 (prices you might expect to pay for a family-style entrée at some Chinese restaurants) but deliver smaller, one-person portions. Moo shu chicken ($13) highlights stir-fried vegetables and moist shreds of chicken that can be rolled or folded inside the provided pancakes. Stir-fried broccoli with shrimp ($11) featured plump shrimp in just the right amount of sauce, balanced with plenty of tender broccoli florets. Any of the lunch specials can be enjoyed at dinner-size portions for an additional $5.
A broad selection of starters cover the globe: raw beef carpaccio ($15), SOMI wings ($9), spicy curry pork dumplings ($8) and crispy spring rolls ($8) filled with savory ground pork and mushrooms.
As at other Vietnamese restaurants, expect to find respectable versions of Vietnamese iced coffee ($3) and Thai iced tea ($3). Perhaps the most memorable items are the cocktails, made exclusively with Utah liquors with the exception of tequila. The Singapore Sling ($10) was lip-smacking with pineapple juice, cherry brandy and Beehive Distilling gin. The Saigon flip ($11) uses Sugar House Distillery rum and vanilla-esque Licor 43 mixed with lime juice, condensed milk, egg white and club soda.
To some extent, SOMI's higher prices are warranted due to the quality of ingredients. There were no limp vegetables or chewy mystery-meat balls of sinew and fat in any dish sampled, and flavors were generally strong but balanced.
Despite the quality, I left every meal at SOMI feeling distinctly as if I was paying primarily for the location and design of the restaurant. One evening, dinner for two totaled out at $95 with an appetizer, two entrées and one cocktail and took almost two hours to complete.
And not one of my three visits came without a major service misstep, from delivering food we did not order and insisting we did and then doing nothing to bring the right food to rudely correcting our pronunciation of dishes. On other occasions, the server delivered the wrong bill and then disappeared from sight and our orders of hot tea ($4) didn't arrive until after our food. Mistakes will happen, but making customers feel as if everything is their fault is a poor way to handle unfortunate situations.
It's this identity crisis where prices suggest fine dining, atmosphere suggests hipster/college student casual and service barely ranks in the diner category that leaves me feeling overcharged and underserved at SOMI.
Heather L. King also writes for http://www.theutahreview.com and can be found on social media @slclunches.
SOMI Vietnamese Bistro
Food • HHH
Mood • HH
Service • Hhj
Noise • bb
High-quality Asian-fusion cuisine, with an emphasis on Vietnamese flavors, in a trendy new uprising in Sugar House.
Location • 1215 E. Wilmington Ave., Salt Lake City; 385-322-1158
Online • somislc.com
Hours • Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.; Friday- Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Children's menu • No
Prices • $$-$$$$
Liquor • Yes
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • No
Credit cards • All major