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SPRINGROLL TIME RESTAURANT

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The Springroll Time Restaurant may be the only Vietnamese restaurant in the Salt Lake area with a view. Situated on the top floor of a discount store, this relatively new (open about four months) eatery looks over both the Oquirrhs and Wasatch range. But for those of us subculture watchers, its vantage point is far more telling than a look at some mountains.

With the restaurant's location just west of Redwood Road on 3500 South in West Valley, it doesn't take customers long to realize that within just a mile or two is an expanding ethnic enclave. From the wide window we counted at least a half dozen other Vietnamese restaurants and markets, along with other services for members of the Southeast Asian community. The varied neighborhood also includes motorcycle and engine repair shops, used car lots and offices appealing to a multilingual clientele.A little more than a decade ago, this phenomenon would have been most unusual for a locale noted for its homogeneity. Now finding a good oriental, let alone Vietnamese, restaurant requires some good inside sources all across the valley.

I was alerted to Springroll Time by a friend who knows one of the co-owners, a Vietnamese refugee who recently finished his degree in mechanical engineering at the U. His restaurant affiliation will no doubt serve a need to stay in touch with his network of friends and introduce newcomers to a cuisine that can be both familiar (similar to Chinese) and unknown (like the charbroiled pork ball special)

One of the things we appreciated during our recent visit was the display of pictures on the wall with some of the house specials, in addition to the English and Vietnamese names. We checked out the photographs and after reading over the menu and asking for descriptions, walked over to the menu gallery and pointed to what we wanted. It was a simple process, accommodated by the waiter, that probably helped us all break the language barrier.

Each of the dishes we sampled was more than ample, served hot, and representative of Vietnamese food. The fresh spring rolls (2 for $2.50) consisted of thin rice noodles, mung bean sprouts, sliced lettuce and large prawns rolled inside luminescent rice pancakes. Served with a spicy dunking sauce topped with grated carrot and peanuts, they were very good. We also enjoyed a cup of crab and asparagus soup ($1.50) with a slightly thickened and peppery broth. The fried spring rolls ($2.50) had a crispy skin and were filled with slender slices of vegetables and came with a sweeter sauce.

Each of the three entrees was also reasonably priced and distinctive. The chicken with lemon grass ($4.25) was small chunks of chicken, stir-fried with curry and served over rice with fresh and marinated slices of vegetables. One of the house special noodle dishes, the beef and vegetables ($4.95), came with lots of sliced carrots, bok choy, green onions, slices of beef and pieces of fresh ginger, served atop thick rice noodles slightly seared in a tangy gravy. We also sampled charbroiled pork and fried spring rolls served atop vermicelli noodles ($4.25). There was enough for us to take home.

Vietnamese cuisine uses several varieties of noodles, including thin vermicelli and wide rice noodles. There are also pan-fried and crispy noodles. Each appears in stir fry dishes or large bowls or broth with vegetables and other ingredients such as pork, chicken, meatballs, crab or shrimp. Inquire about the preparations and you should find a sufficient variety to satisfy your curiosity and tastes.

Springroll Time's menu also features several chow mein and sweet and sour preparations. Other specialties include hot and sour soup, won ton soup, charbroiled pork chops, bean curd with tomato sauce, rare beer and meatball noodle soup, malony noodle soup with shrimp and crab, and Hue's hot and spicy noodle soup. Except for a couple of dishes, nothing exceeds $5.

It was obvious to us that Springroll Time holds a unique place in the Southeast Asian community. A large dance floor, Vietnamese music in the background and posters advertising local Vietnamese performers who appear on the weekend, dominate the interior. This reflects a spirited approach to a special culture in the Salt Lake area as well as its pleasant approach to its engaging cuisine.

Rating: * * * 1/2

Springroll Time Vietnamese and Chinese Restaurant, 1900 West 3500 South, West Valley City. 974-5566. Open Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.; Saturday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Closed Sunday. Free delivery in certain areas. Accepts check with guarantee card; no credit cards.