Friday, January 2, 2009

Spice Market: Meh

Went to Spice Market for the first time on Saturday for an early dinner (5:00 pm). The decor is lovely and trendy, something I expected from the Meatpacking District, but something that also left me a tad worried that the restaurant wouldn't have to "try too hard." I chose the place because I'm a fan of Jean Georges, and also because with three other people, I thought it would make for a fun night out, with at the very least, decent food. I also thought that the menu sounded interesting and that the prices were extremely reasonable.

The decor didn't disappoint. When we arrived, many chefs were still eating downstairs, which made for a cool view from up top. We had a very helpful waiter with a pleasant personality, who took our drink orders, saying he would be right back, but never came back. A woman returned in his place. When we asked where our original server went, we were informed his shift had ended. A little strange they'd start with him for drinks - kind of broke the flow, but not too big a deal.

After some discussion, our table decided to go with the Spice Market Tasting Menu, for $48 each. Here is what was included:

Shaved Tuna - chili tapioca, asian pear, and lime
Shrimp Tod Mon Pla - Cucumber Peanut Relish
Avocado and Radish Salad - Chinese Mustard, Tempura Onions
Charred Chili Rubbed Beef Skewer - Thai Basil Dipping Sauce
Spiced Chicken Samosas - Cilantro Yogurt
Steamed Red Snapper - sautéed corn, ginger, scallion and tarragon
Char Grilled Chicken - kumquat lemograss dressing
Ginger Fried Rice
Ovaltine Kulfi - caramelized banana, spiced milk chocolate sauce
Thai Jewels and Fruits with crushed coconut ice

The portions were well thought out for four people, and there was plenty for everyone.

Shaved Tuna was incredibly sweet. Refreshing way to start the meal, and my companions loved it, but all I tasted was sweetness, and possibly lemongrass.

Shrimp Tod Mon Pla was watery and rubbery. I would've liked it if the outside were grilled. The accompanying sauce helped.

Avocado and Radish Salad was pretty, but two were brought to the table for four people. This was fine for some of the other dishes, but here proved cumbersome, as the onions were stacked on top of each other. We had a hard time splitting it, and eating it the way the chef intended. The flavors were very nice here, and the onions crispy, but the sauce - while good - sort of tasted like honey mustard and horse radish.

Charred Chili Rubbed Beef Skewer - tender, moist, the meat was practically falling off the stick. Good flavors, well cooked, nice accompanying sauce - still, the flavor didn't send this dish over the top like we were hoping. Solid dish, not great.

Spiced Chicken Samosas - Cooked just as a samosa should be - and not greasy at all. Very very good, but there's an Indian place down the street from me that also does this very good - I wouldn't say this was a "re-imagined" dish, just tasty.

Steamed Red Snapper - this was the low point of the evening. Soggy, no texture, the sauce was way too salty, and the skin looked unappetizing. No one liked this dish.

Char Grilled Chicken - Good grilled flavor, very tender, juicy thigh meat, kumquat sauce made the chicken come alive. Tasty, solid, but again, nothing I'd order if I came back.

Ginger Fried Rice - I know it's just rice, but this was a high point of the evening. The egg, when broken up into the rice, with the panko crumbs (or was it fried garlic and ginger that gave it that crispiness?), was just so, so delicious. This came out a couple of seconds after the chicken. I wish it had come out with the snapper, our first main entree, so we could enjoy it earlier. Nice textures and flavors.

Ovaltine Kulfi - Disastrous. Sickly sickly sweet - caramel popcorn on top - a log of fudge or something? - this was inedible.

And now... here follows the one absolute stand-out dish of Spice Market:

Thai Jewels and Fruits with cocunut crushed ice!!!
This dish was so refreshing and smooth and wonderful. I don't remember all the fruit: papaya, mango, tapioca dumplings, jackfruit were some. With coconut milk and shaved ice at the bottom, it reminded me of ...gourmet Fruit Loops! (But in a good way). Our table was so full at this point, but we couldn't stop eating this dish. I'm already daydreaming about it.

If I was going to nitpick: our table got tired of hearing the servers saying, "The chef recommends you squeeze the lime on this." Or "The chef recommends you cut the onion into small pieces." Must've happened five times. This isn't rocket science, and it came across as pretentious. If the chef really recommended that we do something, why didn't he just do it for us?

Great crackers, though (poppers, I think they're called?).

Spice Market
403 W 13th St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 675-2322


  1. Mental note to self: skip Spice Market! I recommend JoJo if you haven't been there - I remember being very pleasantly surprised by the food.

  2. Hi Youngchae! Thanks for my very first post! Will keep JoJo in mind. I'll have to put it on my master list... :)