Spice Market: Restaurant Review

I was so excited for dinner at Spice Market last night- one of Manhattan’s most talked about “it” restaurants.  Get comfortable, because this could be long! (Speaking of long, we had a hellishly long cab ride and showed up late for our reservations, oops! Someone from our party may or may not have been left no other option but to pee in a water bottle on the way there…)

This year is the 10th anniversary of Jean-Georges trendy meatpacking district restaurant that features Southeast Asian street-food inspired cuisine.  The space is HUGE and voluminous- a rarity in this city.  It’s the type of restaurant I love- reminiscent of places like Tao, where you just feel like being in the restaurant has instantly made you swankier and more sophisticated.  At the same time, it makes you feel impossibly un-cool to look around at your fellow diners who look like they’re straight out of a fashion magazine.  I mean literally, a new reality show was filming at the restaurant during our meal. 

(So cool inside! (Picture taken from their website))

To our surprise, we were led through the maze of seating areas to a separate back portion of the restaurant with curtained off dining rooms, where we were seated at a table with a couch and pillows galore.  I was feelin’ pretty classy.

(Private dining room? Don't mind if I do!) 

First things first: Cocktails needed to be ordered.  My mom and I were both instantly drawn to the Thai Smash- Tito’s ‘Handmade’ Vodka with Thai basil, Grapefruit and Lemon.  I was happy when it came and I saw that it was green.  So happy that I made my mom take a picture with them on our big comfy couch (Loonette and Molly..anybody? anybody?)

(Momma and me with our Thai Smashes on the big comfy couch!)

(Remember this comfy couch from your childhood?) 

The Thai Smash was refreshing and delicious and I’m totally on a grapefruit loving kick after this drink and the lobster salad from Keen’sSteakhouse.
We were then served complimentary lentil chips with a tomato jam. The lentil chips were crisp and airy- a really cool consistency that everyone at the table commented on.  They definitely reminded me of the black bean chips I tried recently.  The tomato jam was sweet and spicy and pretty stellar.  I may have even taken a few spoonfuls of it sans lentil chips. 

(Definitely delicious)

Confession time: When I’m excited about a restaurant, I can be a little bit of a jerk.  Ok, a big jerk.  Luckily, my parents still love me.  I was pretty controlling over what we would be ordering.  But this was serious business! We had to hit on a few key dishes! The phrase used to describe me last night was “little Nazi.” Uh, sorry guys.

Something to note about Spice Market: the dishes are served as they are prepared in the kitchen.  Meaning, dishes will continuously be brought to the table, in no type of order.  Everyone won’t receive what they ordered at the same time.  And it’s assumed that everyone in the party will be sharing the dishes.  So this place could get a litttttle bit awkward if you’re with people you aren’t comfortable with. The way my group did it was that we each ordered an appetizer or smaller plate/side along with a larger main dish, as well as a few sides to all split.  But as the things started coming out haphazardly, we naturally settled into the meal the way it is meant to be enjoyed. Whoever ordered a certain plate would claim it when it arrived at the table, but pretty soon they would be passing it around saying, “You gotta try this! Take some!” Personally, I love this way of eating.  You get to try tons of different things! You can all take a bite and talk about the flavors! I think it’s great. But it’s definitely not for everyone! OK, PSA on how Spice Market serves their food = over.

I had read about the Lobster Summer Roll online and knew it was one of their most-ordered dishes.  It was the first to arrive at the table, and my mom and I dug in. Described on the menu as a Lobster Summer Roll with Citrus-Dill Gelée and Sriracha Emulsion, I can say that all of those things were certainly present. 

(Lobster Summer Roll)

The first thing I said when I ate a piece was “Oh my God mom you’re gunna LOVE this- it’s got so much dill!” And I was right, she loved the dill.  But it was a little over-powering.  Same with the “gelée”- a citrusy gelatin cube that I’m not sure I appreciated in my lobster roll.  The Sriracha Emulsion was essentially spicy mustard like you would find at any sushi restaurant served on the side.  Solid.  My biggest complaint? Despite an obvious hunk of lobster in each piece of the Lobster Summer Roll- I tasted absolutely no lobster.  Overall, a disappointment.

The other appetizer that my mom and I had decided to try (ok, I decided it was what we were going to try…) was the Spiced Carrot Broth with Kale and Tofu Dumplings. 

(Carrots = my favorite) 

This was a definite improvement over the Lobster Summer Roll.  The broth was sweet, carroty and light, and I liked that it wasn’t a heavy, creamy broth.  We weren’t exactly sure what the black flecks floating on top were, but they added a smoky taste that I liked.  The dumplings were filled with delicious kale.  I love you, kale.  The tofu wasn’t noticeable, but then again, tofu isn’t usually noticeable.  The soup gets a thumbs up from this carrot and kale lover.

I also got to try everyone else’s appetizers- hip hip hooray!

The Avocado and Radish Salad with Chinese Mustard and Tempura Onions was avocado with radishes and some four leaf clover lookin’ things.  Nothing to write home about.  The tempura onion rings were pretty tasty, probably because I haven’t had anything fried in a while. 

Someone ordered the Shaved Tuna, Chili Tapioca and Asian Pear and Lime, but I was still feeling shy at that point in the meal and didn’t try it.  I wish I had, because the chili and pear flavor combo intrigues me.  Next time.

My dad ordered the Steamed Shrimp Dumplings with Lobster and Shitake Mushroom Sauce, which was a crowd pleaser.  They were tasty, for sure, but I was really expecting some game-changing stuff from this place, and this wasn’t that.

(Oof, ugly picture of the Shrimp Dumplings)

The last of the starters was the Crispy Sushi with Chipotle Mayonnaise (Salmon, Scallop, Tuna and Snapper).

(Sushi is always so pretty)

 These beautiful pieces of salmon, scallop, tuna and snapper sashimi were sitting on top of blocks of fried white rice.  So bizarre to me.  Completely unnecessary.  Why?

Next up were the bigger dishes and sides.  My mom and I had ordered the Striped Bass with Wok Fried Napa Cabbage, Jicama and Cucumber. How I failed to take a picture of it, I do not know!

I’ve been seeing tons of recipes for dishes with jicama which was the main reason I wanted to try this dish.  I was a fan of the jicama! I was also a fan of this dish in general, although it was HOT HOT HOT.  I don’t know what exactly was so spicy in it, but it was definitely the spiciest of the dishes.  Other people’s meals had come with either jasmine or brown rice, and it was definitely necessary to eat some with the striped bass to cut the spice a little bit.

Sadly, I didn’t try the Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Spring Pea Broth and White Asparagus that someone had ordered, but I did get a picture of it!


I also didn’t try my dad’s Red Curried Duck with Pineapple Sambal because I gave up meat for Lent and all.  He ordered a side of the coconut sticky rice though, which came served in a steamed banana leaf.  It was super sticky and deliciously sweet!

Someone else had ordered the Vietnamese Chicken Curry with Snap Peas and Cilantro which I also couldn’t really try, but I dunked some rice in the curry to try it and it was…curry? Not much to say about it.

I do have something to say about the Braised Chick Peas served with Crispy Naan and Lemon Yogurt though. Drunken Munkey’s chickpeas kicked these chickpeas’ bootay.

(Chickpeas 'n stuff)

For something that was supposedly “braised” it didn’t seem like the chickpeas were cooked for very long at all- they were kind of hard.  And I was so excited for naan, I thought it would be perfect for dealing with the spiciness of the striped bass dish…but when it came to the table, it was DEEP FRIED NAAN.  I mean, I could taste it clogging my arteries.  It was legit like eating fried dough at a carnival minus the powdered sugar.  Delicious? Yes.  What I wanted when I ordered braised chickpeas with naan? No.  

Another side we got was the “famous” Ginger Fried Rice- topped with a fried egg, you could taste the unhealthiness of this side dish.  But it tasted oh so good! Obviously a popular dish for a reason.

(I took this picture from Yelp because I thought this dish deserved a picture)

Last but not least was the Pearl Noodles with Smoked Tofu and Black Bean Sauce.

(MMM! Coolest noodles ever.) 

This may have been my favorite! The black bean sauce was delicious but my real obsession with this dish was the pearl noodles.  I rarely eat pasta or noodles so I was loving indulging in them.  And the texture of them was SO COOL.  Just look at them!

After stuffing myself with all of these different dishes, I was ready to pass on dessert (plus, I knew I had Magnolia Banana Pudding waiting for me at home- if you haven’t had it, go, immediately.) But when I got back from the bathroom, they had ordered me the dessert I had been eyeing- the Ovaltine Kulfi- Caramelized Banana and Spice Milk Chocolate Sauce.

(Not as great as it looks)

This dessert, while impressive on the presentation- was a major let down.  It may not look like it…but that piece of caramelized banana that I was led to believe was the centerpiece of the dessert, was minuscule.  And instead, the majority of the dessert was a boring chunk of chocolate fudge. I mean, yeah, I ate all the chocolate fudge, because I’m a girl and it was chocolate.  But all I wanted was more caramelized banana, gosh darnit!  The chocolate log was topped with some caramel popcorn which was kind of like, what? Ok, cool. 

So, I just wrote a whole lotta words.  Bottom line?  I had very high expectations for Spice Market.
+Loved the atmosphere. Felt super chic.
+Loved the overall experience, with food coming out when it was ready and everyone trying each other’s plates.
+Everything was good.  Nothing tasted bad.
+Spiced Carrot Broth with Tofu and Kale Dumplings
+Pearl Noodles with Smoked Tofu and Black Bean Sauce

-Overall, not as “WOW” worthy as I had hoped for.
-Why are you deep frying your naan? Why are you deep frying white rice? (You can continue to deep fry your onions).
-Why does your lobster taste like nothing?
-Why are there gelatin cubes in my summer roll?
-Give me more caramelized banana.
-I felt like they were trying a little too hard to be innovative and different but not in any exciting ways.

I would definitely go back, because there are still things I would like to try, and just because it’s a really awesome dining experience. I had a great time and enjoyed everything I tried. I only sound critical because I expected so much!

Since it’s the 10 year anniversary- they also have a tastingmenu for $52 per person! They have a vegetarian one for $48 as well. And they have a lunch prix fix AND brunch! So check it out and see for yourself!