Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spice And Everything Nice

If you’re ever in New York and in need of an excellent meal with a riot of flavors from all over Southeast Asia, go to The Spice Market. This is where Emiline, her mom and I had lunch last week.

Shortly after we arrived, nicely spiced papadums came to the table. They were perfectly seasoned with a not too hot dipping sauce.

I was excited to try the Bento Box. It’s their faster, less expensive option for lunch. As you would expect from the name, the food is presented in small dishes and containers on a bamboo tray.

There was no Japanese food, despite the name, but I liked that they borrowed the term and applied it to little tastes of their signature fusion cuisine.

Em and I ordered the Bento Box with the Chicken Skewer option. (Pork and Beef were other possibilities.) Her mom ordered the Chicken Samosas with cilantro yogurt and Spicy Shanghai Noodles.

I tasted the noodles, good, but a little greasy. The samosas looked crispy and delicious.

The Bento Boxes came with beautiful drinks.

We tried the Fiji iced Tea, unsweetened but served with simple syrup for sweetening, and the jewel-toned, but fairly bland, Cherry Yuzu Soda. It wasn’t carbonated enough and really didn’t have much flavor, lacking in both cherry AND grapefruit tasting yuzu. The Saigon Cosmo (not included in the lunch price) was yummy. The Plum Saké was an interesting substitute for Grand Marnier with the vodka and cranberry juice.

The soup in the Bento Box was a Spiced Pea Soup. It was just right – spicy as in wonderfully flavored, but not overly hot.

The Chicken Skewers were among the best I’ve ever had. The chicken was cut in perfect small cubes, with perfect grill marks as if they had been painted on. The satay sauce, which I love, was thin enough to coat the chicken perfectly, but thick enough to stay on with each dip.

To me the star of the Bento Box was the Mango Salad.

Em loved the crystallized tamarind. Me too, I had never had tamarind that way before. Its characteristic sour tang was enhanced by the delicious candied orange flavor. It was a great foil for the mango.

The last dish was striped bass.

It was served with Napa cabbage (wok-fried) and water chestnuts and cucumber. The fish was tender, served in big flakes, but I didn’t find it terribly exciting. This could have been where the excitement of the lunch got in the way. Perhaps it didn’t hold my attention, because I was too busy concentrating on my blogging bonne amie.

Dessert drew me back in. The first one was Kulfi.

I LOVE Kulfi. It's a dense Indian ice cream, made from condensed milk. The Spice Market version was an Ovaltine Kulfi with Caramelized Bananas and Spiced Milk Chocolate Sauce.

Luckily, I couldn’t taste the Ovaltine, but unluckily, this kulfi was not served frozen. It was like a rectangular block of a milk chocolate truffle, not terribly chocolaty and, in fact, rather bland. I was disappointed it wasn’t frozen and I prefer dark chocolate anyway. The caramelized banana and crunchy topping (Em, I can't remember, was that popcorn?) were good, though.

The other dessert that we shared - ginger ice cream - fared better, although it was a bit of a challenge to open the Chinese takeaway box that it was served in.

After we finally figured out how to get into it, the ginger ice cream was quite tasty. But while the kulfi wasn’t frozen enough (or at all), this was TOO frozen. Finally, I ripped it out of the container completely and put it on a plate, which allowed it to soften a bit.

The service throughout was unobtrusive and professional. In fact, I didn’t even notice it…that’s how good it was. It is a really pretty place - exotic and kind of mysterious with screens and balconies and big pillars blocking your view of the beautiful people (and their view of you).

On my next visit, I have to go with someone much less alluring than Emiline and someone to whom I don’t have much to say – H(usband), are you available? ;-) – THAT WAY I can really concentrate on the food.

The night after we went to Spice Market, Jean-Georges was on Nightline…in a little feature they call “NTL Platelist”. He made a quick little lobster dish – to him, lobster always requires butter – which was topped with a lychee salad. Very pretty, very delicious looking small plate.

He also made Tuna “Noodles” - thin strands of tuna mixed with Thai chili, shallots, olive oil and salt served with mashed avocado and radishes (for their crunch) splashed with some chili oil. The dressing was young ginger, lime leaves, soy and chili oil. I love him, his accent, his restaurants. Fusion to Jean-Georges means Asian flavors combined with French techniques. Yup to that.


Emiline said...

The soup and the salad were really delicious. I've had that soup on my mind for days, and I never think about pea soup. I love the idea of using coconut milk in it, and maybe a little bit of curry...I liked the radish too.

That was popcorn. Caramel corn? The thing that bothered me about the kulfi, was that the sprinkles were really crunchy. They got in the way of the smooth, creamy kulfi. And yeah, I didn't taste the ovaltine. Didn't you say it had a milk chocolate flavor? Which we know is a crime!

Are you forgetting anything in this post? Maybe not.

Sue said...

Maybe...maybe not. Stay tuned.