Adventures of a Gastronome in Training (GIT)

One amateur foodie's quest for culinary enlightenment. Musings on cooking, dining, food products, basically all things edible are fair game.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Spice Market

Last weekend, Marty and I joined some friends at the Meatpacking District hotspot, Spice Market. It opened in February as a joint effort from two of New York’s top chefs Gray Kunz (Lespinasse, future Time Warner Center restaurant - Café Gray) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Jean-Georges, Vong, 66, V Steakhouse, Mercer Kitchen, JoJo, Nougatine). The gorgeous restaurant decked out with an array of Asian antiques, flowing fabrics, soft-glowing light is Kunz and Vongerichten’s tribute to Asian street food. My curiosity over this uber-sexy hotspot was balanced with fears of another over-hyped, over-priced New York restaurant. It received what should have been a culinary seal of approval in the form of three stars from then interim New York Times restaurant critic, Amanda Hesser. However, this review was yet another catalyst for the growing backlash against Hesser with claims that her personal relationship with Vongerichten influenced the review. Hesser critics also stated the trendy, hip scene overly swayed her gushing descriptions. Other reviewers did give Spice Market generally positive reviews (Steve Cuozzo, Hal Rubenstein) but none threw down the love like Hesser’s (although Andrea Strong does come close).

We started our meal by meeting our waiter, Hottie McHotpants. Seriously, the clearly aspiring model/actor was gorgeous, complete with a Patrick Rafter-esque hairstyle. We apparently lucked out from a purely visual standpoint, as the other wait staff, even the women in the backless shirts, paled in comparison. As the night went on, however, the image of the perfect man was crushed by his rather vacant approach to being a waiter. Bottom line, don’t expect anywhere near three star service.

The food is served when ready from the kitchen and presented family style. This lack of sequencing, which greatly simplifies kitchen operations, creates a more casual dining experience. While we waited for our parade of dishes, we snacked on the delicious papalams and kasundi, an Indian spice-tomato jam (so tasty we asked for seconds). Some dishes were excellent, shaved tuna with tapioca pearls, Asian pear, and chilies in coconut-and-kaffir-lime broth ($11) is a precarious blend of interesting flavors and textures that manages to maintain balance. The succulent meat in the chili and onion crusted short ribs with egg noodles and pea shoots ($18) melted in my mouth (although, I imagine, as one of my dining companions noted, that this dish is likely duplicated in Chinatown for a fraction of the price). Many of the dishes were quite pleasant, but ultimately forgettable - chicken samosas with fresh cilantro yogurt dipping sauce ($8), sea bass with kimchee cabbage, water chestnuts and cucumber ($22), avocado and radish salad with Chinese mustard and tempura onions ($7.50). Other dishes fell short on execution. The shrimp paired with cubed jicama, black bean sauce, and oven-roasted pineapple chunks ($12) were tough and overcooked. The steamed lobster ($29) with butter-fried garlic sat atop of some of the saltiest greens I have ever tasted.

All of Pichet Ong’s desserts we tried were outstanding. The most interesting was the Thai Jewels. The colorful "jewels" are actually water chestnut and tapioca dumplings, gummy droplets flavored with red and green pandan. They are served in a foamy coconut sorbet and ice bath with papaya, jackfruit, passion fruit and coconut.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Spice Market, though I don’t think I’ll be rushing to make another reservation. Actually, my approach next time may be to come late in the evening when I’m not too hungry, get a few of my favorites from the menu, and quickly head to the desserts. That way I can enjoy the scene, get the food I preferred, and avoid spending more than it’s worth.


Blogger Toby Leah Bochan said...

the shaved tuna with tapioca pearls was the "with a spoon" dish I was talking about. :)

1:33 PM  
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3:48 AM  
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Jennie/Female. Lives in United States/Jennie Auster/New York, speaks English. Eye color is blue.