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Restaurants & Bars 10

A month at Spices I

nooodles | Oct 10, 2005 12:23 AM

note: I haven't been to Spices II in awhile now, so this post pertains only to Spices I, on 8th just north of Clement.

Today marked the fourth consecutive Saturday that I've eaten at Spices I. Luckily, I'm nowhere near exhausting their menu. Visits will continue to be a weekly ritual for awhile yet. This is the first time in my life that I've made such regular visits to a restaurant. Usually, restaurants that I love are too expensive to visit on a regular basis, and cheap foods (tacos, pho, dim sum) just don't spark that many regular cravings. At about $15-17 after tax and tip, Spices I is somewhere I can go regularly without breaking the bank, and the food is the type I can eat regularly without tiring of it.

caveat: the number of stellar dishes at Spices I greatly decreases if you don't like stinky tofu or spicy food with szechuan peppercorns (the ones that make your mouth go numb).

THE GREAT:
-deep fried stinky tofu: crispy, hot, with a sweet and salty sauce whose garlic level is off the charts. The Chinese style pickled cabbage served with this is crunchy and lightly flavored--just right.
-cumin lamb hot pot (aka. nomad hot pot): a large pot of soup served over a portable propane stove. filled with bean thread noodles, leek greens, lamb, tofu, vegetables, and chili oil. Not numbing, but spicy and fragrant with cumin.
-pork chop over rice: authentically Taiwanese, deep fried to a crisp and served with a tea egg, rice, and braised (?) ground pork (rou zao).
-beef noodle soup: a standard Taiwanese beef noodle soup with chunks of beef and tendon, noodles, and greens (usually spinach). The difference at Spices I is that they make it very spicy with chili oil. I'm glad to say that they've significantly decreased the amount of chili oil, not because I don't like it spicy but because it used to have so much oil the whole thing tasted greasy.
-stinky stinky tofu pot: pork blood, pork intestines, stinky tofu, leeks, and numbing spicy chili oil round out this dish.
-husband and wife slices(fu qi fei pian): slices of beef with tendon and parts of tripe, swimming in chili and sichuan peppercorns and topped with crushed peanuts.

THE OKAY:
-steamed stinky tofu: I don't like the pickled mustard greens (xue cai) that come with this, but otherwise it was fine.
-deep fried stinky tofu with fava beans. Comes in a gooey starchy sauce made with cornstarch and soy sauce.
-deep fried stinky tofu on skewers, which you further toast over an open flames like marshmallows. They taste like deep fried stinky tofu that's been baked, with the resulting tofu being dryer rather than oily and juicy. They were fun and tasted fine, but I thought they could use a little extra sauce. They're brushed with a little sweetened soy sauce and garlic, but I ate most of it dipped in the garlic sauce that comes with the deep fried tofu. This also comes with pickled cabbage.
-stinky stinky pot with seafood. This isn't bad by any means. The shrimp is large and crunchy, squid is tender, and there's plenty of variety. I just don't think stinky tofu and seafood go very well together. There's something about stinky tofu that lends itself better to meat and offal, like pork's blood and intestines. If you're turned off by the blood and intestines, the seafood might be more up your alley.
-spicy crab: not as good as the crab covered in toasted minced garlic at Spices II. The crab was a little small, but that is of course because it's not crab season yet. It was cut into chunks and fried in a very spicy, peppery, slightly sweet sauce. The best part of this dish was the crab goo on the underside of the body shell. It had become crispy around the edges and absorbed a lot of the spiciness of the sauce. The rest of the crab was not exceptional.
-sauteed eel. This would be very good if only I liked eel prepared this way. There are a numbe of Chinese dishes in which eel is cut into long wormlike strips and cooked in a gooey sauce. The result is, not surprisingly, slimy. This version is also numbingly spicy. For anyone who likes eel this way, go for it.

THE BAD:
-There's only one thing I've tried at Spices I that is downright terrible. The twin cooked shrimp. It's truly horrendous. First of all, they use some kind of awful frozen rock shrimp. They slather a handful in gooey sweetened mayo, and then pour a bright orange sweet and sour sauce over the other half. Both halves are equally terrible. It's so bad that even a lover of Panda Express would probably have trouble eating the whole plate. I really don't understand why it's on the menu.

TO TRY:
-deep fried fish with dou ban sauce (what would you call this bean sauce in English?). We saw one go by and it looked glorious. A large fish, scored on both sides, deep fried, made to stand up like it's swimming on the plate, and covered in a sticky garlicy sauce.
-all the other hot pots.

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