Thursday, March 12, 2009

Comment Card: Spice Market

There are these specific restaurants in New York where the massive scale and exquisite design elements of the space, usually in the form of vaulted ceilings, immense crystal chandeliers, or an impossibly large Buddha in the middle of the floor, instantly affects your impression and you are meant to be catapulted into a far-away, fabled place that satisfies the senses and enhances the dining experience. In the case, of Spice Market, you end up at a, umm, spice market (the name has always been a bit too on the nose for me...), albeit an upmarket one in the ginormous continent of Asia somewhere. In real-life, the restaurant is located in the hellacious social mecca for the Vodka and Red Bull drinking, post-collegiate set, known as the Meatpacking Distict. The space is lush and quite special, replete with long lanterns, rustic wooden staircases, and a sultry lighting scheme. Despite the stunning atmospheric details, the food, an elevated take on pan-asian street food, isn't at all commensurate to the grandiosity of the space, but it's still pretty ok.

I went with 3 out-of-towners from Italy, who were quite taken by the surroundings...and food (They ordered 2 sashimi appetizers, 1 order of the spring rolls (I tried one, very tasty!), 2 lobster main courses, 1 cod main, and 2 crème brûlées.) Note for waist and wallet watchers: The waiter recommended family-style eating, but we ordered separate appetizers and mains. The portions are HULKING, especially the appetizers. If I eat there again, I would get 2-3 apps for a group of 4 and share a main.

What I ordered:

Crispy squid salad with cashews, green papaya and watermelon
Coconut milk, curried, laksa with fish, scallop and prawns
Ovaltine Kulfi with spiced chocolate sauce

The salad was considerably large and was drizzled with a spicy, orange mayonnaisey, French dressing. The watermelon would have been an interesting compliment to the kick of the spice, but my cubes were too soggy and ruined the textures. The fried squid was tender, although slightly over-battered. The papaya chunks (could have been swapped with jicama) gave it a nice, refreshing, cleansing crunch.

The laksa, rich and flavorful, gave off an incredible aroma. The prawns were plump, perfectly cooked, and served in a big bowl with the heads on, bobbing amid the deep yellow, steamy soup. The juice from the head is where all the flavors are stored. You can suck the glorious juices out if you aren't shy about such things. The fish and scallop were let-downs, overcooked and tough.

I'm never the person to order the Triple Chocolate Bombe, due to some mind-splitting migraines that the complex compound has wielded on me, but I shrugged it off and ordered the Chocolate Ovaltine Kulfi. It was too frozen and could have sat a longer (its density was similar to that of a stale Tootside roll), feeling too resistant to the bite. After wrestling with the dessert, I managed to tear away a small morsel of the kulfi and slowly let it melt in my mouth, the creamy malted flavor overtaking my palate, which was a pleasant way to end the meal.


Food: Tasty
Service: Fast and Friendly
Ambiance: Lush
Price: Expensive ($65-70/person) includes 20% tip and 1 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc
Verdict: Take your visitors here

Spice Market
403 W. 13th Street New York, NY 10014 Tel: (212) 675-2322

Spice Market on Urbanspoon

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