Not Wrong Can Get Closer to Right

2006.Jun.14 Wednesday · 2 comments

in Restaurants

New York – Last night’s dinner, and a second chance for Spice Market (yesterday’s “review”)…

First, the day-glo orange tracksuits that many of the waiters wear are cotton, not nylon. I stand corrected. Second, we got a little “news” info. The chef who has been running the kitchen at Spice Market since it opens, Stanley Wong, left last Friday. The new chef, James Reinholt, just started running the kitchen on Saturday, so Monday at lunch was only his third day, though I presume he’d been working there prior to that.

We had a group of four of us, and as I said in the comments that ensued after yesterday’s post, one of the people in our party is a personal friend of Jean-Georges. Not surprisingly, we got very well taken care of, including a couple of extra dishes, and plenty of attention. But, I would note, from looking around the dining room – everyone seemed to be being taken care of well – and the place was jam-packed, upstairs and down, with several hundred people, versus the maybe two dozen who were having lunch on Monday. So maybe the lunch crew is the “B-Team”… still no excuse. However, I can’t fault even a moment of the service throughout dinner, it was friendly, efficient, and professional, and only one missed dish – but as you’ll see, we kind of ordered the whole appetizer menu, and I’m sure it just got missed in the chaos.

The food was far better than it had been at lunch. No question about it, as you’ll see in a moment. There were items I wasn’t particularly fond of, but as others at the table enjoyed them, I have to chalk that up to personal taste. I certainly could see their appeal, and at the very least, the quality and intent behind them. I don’t have new photos – this was a birthday celebration and I wasn’t going to sit there snapping pix of each dish – we were there just to hang out and enjoy. But, here’s a bite-by-bite review of brief thoughts as I remember the dishes.

Cocktails – we tried the Ginger Margarita – too sweet for me, but plenty of ginger flavor, and I don’t tend to like margaritas anyway, I usually find them too sweet; we also tried their version of the Singapore Sling, which was good – a nice touch of bitterness from using herbal Benedictine rather than Cherry Heering – still a bit on the sweet side for me. However, all you have to do is look around the space and note that the vast majority of folk there are 20 and early 30 somethings pounding cocktails and nibbling nibbles.

Wine – Had a couple of bottles of Nigl Grüner Veltliner 2004 from Austria that matched beautifully with the food – a hint of floral notes, great acidity, and nice and rich.

We ordered an array of appetizers. This time, our waitress informed us that all food at Spice Market is served basically one or two dishes at a time, “family style”, for sharing. That might have been good info to have the day before for lunch, as it would have explained the bizarre timing, and/or we could have opted to have it served more “traditionally”.

Shrimp Tod Mon Pla – basically four fried shrimp cakes – very delicate, a trifle “eggy”, and served with a fresh cucumber and peanut relish that was quite good.

Vietnamese Spring Roll – more or less a classic Vietnamese springroll – for me, very oily, and for five springrolls on the plate there were only three small lettuce leaves to wrap them, one sprig of mint and one sprig of cilantro. Dipping sauce was decent, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Spicy Thai Fried Chicken Wings with Mango and Mint – First, the mango and mint were just a lineup of some small slices of mango with a few chopped mint leaves sprinkled on them. The wings themselves were quite good – nice smoky, vinegary sauce. I didn’t think they were particularly spicy, though I was out voted by the rest of the folk at the table, one of whom felt it was more or less blazingly picante. Different tastes.

Chicken Skewer, Lime Dipping Sauce – don’t know, they never arrived.

Black Pepper Shrimp with Sun Dried Pineapple – I have mixed feelings about this. I love the idea behind the black pepper sauce that coated both the shrimp and the pineapple. But, I also felt that the whole dish was maybe a bit overcooked – bordering on burnt. It was almost as if they’d been trying to caramelize the sauce and just let it go a bit too long. Still, I’d try it again.

Spiced Chicken Samosas, Cilantro Yogurt – These rocked, very simply. Quite possibly the best samosas I’ve had. Also nothing really like a samosa, other than in their triangular shape. Regardless, really, really good.

Lobster Roll with Dill and Sriracha – Liked the Sriracha (a chili sauce that’s used in a lot of Southeastern Asian cooking here in the States) mayonnaise. The lobster roll itself was a bit of a yawn, and the flavor of the lobster and the dill were completely masked by the chili sauce.

Mango Salad, Cherry Tomato, and Crystallized Tamarind – Nice mix of green and fresh mango, I liked the balance of flavors in this with the lightly vinegary and fish sauce dressing, and the peanuts. I wasn’t overly fond of the crystallized tamarind, which was like having crunchy rock candy in the salad.

Crunchy Squid Salad with Ginger, Papaya and Cashews – You might remember this one from the day before – I still don’t really like it. The squid continued to be non-crunchy and greasy. The salad, however, clearly showed that something was off at lunch. The dressing on it at lunch had been more or less white in color, sort of like mayonnaise, and as I said, vaguely gingery. At dinner, it was a vibrant pinkish color, and packed with chilies. Actually, it seemed to be more or less the same chili mayonnaise as on the Lobster Roll above. At least it had a nice kick to it, and I couldn’t say it didn’t have any spice.

Crispy Sesame Crab, Sweet Soy Pink Grapefruit and Ginger Salad – I didn’t get this dish at all. Small balls of crab meat, more or less like what you’d put in a crab cake. Coated in sesame seeds and deep fried until nearly black. The whole thing tasted completely burnt and unappetizing. The “salad” accompanying was a mash up of pink grapefruit and pomelo. I didn’t taste any ginger. Just sugary sweet.

Ginger Fried Rice – The star of the evening, and it was just a side dish! Absolutely wonderful fried rice, flavored with lightly browned ginger and garlic and various herbs. The whole thing topped with a soft-cooked egg that when mixed in made it amazingly rich.

Desserts – I don’t have a copy of the dessert menu to refer to, so I’ll have to wing this a bit more:

Ovaltine Kulfi and Chocolate Nougatine – Not a winner for me. Sort of a weird, caramel corn-ish topping, flavored with Ovaltine, atop a hockey-puck dense slice of a chocolate fudge sort of thing. Somehow, it just didn’t work.

Calamansi Lime Merengue Tart – small squares of the tart cut up and presented with a sauce that I think was a mix of citrus and ginger. The tart itself kind of uninteresting, the sauce was pretty good.

Rhubarb Crumble with Young Ginger Ice Cream – The crumble was pretty decent, a little overly sweet for me, especially as it was accompanied by a very sweet ice cream. The young ginger flavor really shown through in the ice cream.

Exotic Fruit with Spiced Lime Salt – A nice bowl of different fruits – kiwi, papaya, mango, starfruit, pineapple, banana, and apple. The lime salt was quite interesting, and provided a nice touch to the fruit – a mix, apparently, of salt, raw sugar, lime juice, and chili. I didn’t taste the chili, and neither did anyone else at the table, but the claim is that it’s there, just subtle…

So overall, a far better experience than my first visit, though it’s still overpriced (the nibbles above range from $9-15 each for, well, nibbles). But that brings us back to my thought at the end of yesterday’s column – is it that the staff are insufficiently trained (at lunch anyway, and here and there at dinner), or is it that they’re cutting corners, or perhaps even changing things, when someone’s not watching them? I still can’t say that I particularly recommend the place, but they’re clearly attracting a lot of people, and my dining companions seemed to like everything. I just think there’s a lot better Asian fusion food out there, for less money. But then, this column is all about my tastes…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

onechef August 6, 2009 at 04:21

Just to say, I worked at spice market for over two years,and appreciate your savvy remarks even after having left back in 2007…thanks for the input

Sofia Lampton September 23, 2010 at 13:25

Just to say, I worked at spice market for over two years,and appreciate your savvy remarks even after having left back in 2007…thanks for the input

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