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JG/Kunz's Spice Market

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JG/Kunz's Spice Market

cabrales | Feb 14, 2004 08:13 AM

Spice Market started operating on a limited basis the day before yesterday. Two of us went to see what it offered. It's difficult to evaluate the level of cuisine, but I found the meal I chose only average.

As members know, Spice Market was inspired by the street food and other foods of various Asian countries (including India, Thailand and Vietnam). The decor reflects that. The decor was quite interesting, with a brown/orange theme. Lots of antique-looking objects, with a central middle area that is "empty" on the ground floor (in the sense of encompassing open space, very large glass (?) decorations and a pavillion that straddles the staircase as one descends to the lower level.

We sat on the ground level, where some seats involved white lounge-type sofas. My dining companion began with a blood orange mojito (a bit bitter), whilst I took in a Pattaya (champagne with passion fruit; I rarely take in flavored champagne drinks, incl. Kir Royales, before a serious meal, but I didn't think that rule applied to a less serious meal).

The dining room team was earnest in providing service. It was nice that some chef de rang-level types were Asian. Some male dining room team members wore orange tunics. Some female dining room team members wore long Asian-type dresses (with pants; Vietnamese-style) with exposed backsides.

The restaurant recommends a "family style" meal. One order of the below dishes was shared by the two of us.

The bread was a thin, wafer-like bread we were told was paplar, with a Casandi (sp) dip that resembled tomato chutney.

-- Pomelo Crab Salad with Rice Vermicelli ($9.50). This was the best dish of the meal, and it was only average-plus. Thin vermicelli noodles were intertwined with pomelo (a type of grapefruit that is less acidic than most grapefruit) in small bits and with halves of mini tomatoes, crabmeat and lime. There were also raw bean sprouts, mint, crushed peanuts. This was appropriate.

-- Green Papaya Salad, Charred Long Beans, Crystallized Ginger and Tamarind ($8). The green papaya salad was average-minus. It seemed too weighty, and the green papaya juliennes seemed overwhelmed by the medium-thick saucing. There were chili components in the saucing too, which made it more difficult for me to properly evaluate the dish in view of my own problems with heat tastes. Again, crushed peanuts -- perhaps too many of them. The crystallized giner was an interesting combination with the green papaya, offering a taste resembling the pickled young ginger that accompanies sushi/sashimi.

-- Red Curried Duck ($18); Coconut Sticky Rice steamed in Banana Leaf ($2). Served in a clay pot, the pieces of skinless red curried duck tasted too "matte"/mushy and the texture of the duck was problematic in some pieces. There were some chili components here too.

-- Chicken Noodles in a Ginger Broth ($11). This dish should not have been served after the curried duck, with respect to its taste relative to the more aggressive duck. Anyhow, there was a very limited amount of noodles in the soup, but surprisingly large amounts of fairly tender chicken. However, I only found this dish average. A hint of peanut oil. Some slices of radish. Most surprising ingredient in the dish were rehydrated, formerly dried red dates. This is an ingredient from Chinese cuisine. Broth was mediocre.

-- Ovaltine Kulfi, Banana Brulee and Spiced Milk, Chocolate Sauce ($7). I tasted this dessert, which my dining companion ordered. Caramel popcorn was on the side of the dish. Banana brulee was not bad, and my dining companion liked the kulfi. Interesting use of powdered chocolate drink mix (presumably hydrated) to confer chocolate flavor. Top of Kulfi tasted a bit like a Heath bar with pistachio.

I drank a glass of Clairette 2001, Grover ($8), which represented my first exposure to Indian wine. It met my expectations, but that was because my expectations were extremely low. (There were more conventional selections by the glass.)

Jean-Georges was on hand, and periodically came into the dining room to survey things. I did not see Kunz, or the restaurant's executive chef. However, I ask why we need J-G and Kunz (and why we need to pay higher prices, relative to Asian restaurants) to interpret dishes that were fine to begin with.

At least Spice Market is not the diaster that 66 was, food-wise.

The total after tax and before tip was $93 for two.

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