Both of these places have been reported on pretty thoroughly on this board, but my recent visits have made me wish that I lived closer to one or both of these restaurants. The food is inexpensive, extremely tasty, and a very nice change from all the Cantonese food in Chinatown.
One dish I ordered at both places is the stinky tofu, which is a dish I love for both the smell and the texture. The version at Joy was excellent - crispy on the outside, and airy/spongey on the inside. I really wished we weren't sitting outside because the wind blew all the good smells away. The version at Spices! was slightly less crispy on the outside, and mostly solid on the inside (less spongey). It also could have been stinkier.
At Joy, the hand-pulled bread, yeow tiau (sorry, I can never spell these chinese words correctly), and the savory soy milk were all excellent, as previously reported. I did try a new dish, called three cup chicken (one cup water, one cup wine, one cup sugar). An important ingredient that wasn't mentioned in the name is basil. It was good - similar to thai basil chicken but sweeter and not spicy at all.
The only dishes that I wouldn't order again were the beef noodle soup with knife cut noodles and the shao bing. The soup could have been more flavorful - I would have like more anise and more beef flavor. The noodles were great but they lost their texture if they sat in the soup for more than 10 minutes. I like to take my time when I am eating, and some of the smaller noodles bits got soggy very quickly. I think the knife cut noodles work better when they are stir-fried. The shao bing arrived very flat. The outside was not crispy at all and it seemed like there was too much oil weighing down each layer. So far, the best shao bing I've had is at Mongolian BBQ in Torrance (LA area), of all places!
At Spices!, my favorite dishes are still dry-braised intestine (as good as the version at China Village) and the chinese bacon in spicy sauce, both of which chowhounders tried at the last chowdown there. One dish that hasn't been reported on yet is the hot pot. (This is at the 8th avenue location). We ordered the seafood hot pot, which I would actually like to rename seafood soup claypot. There was none of the cooking at the table normally associated with hot pot. Instead, they give you a burner (which took up a lot of room on the table), and they bring out a soup in a large claypot. The seafood included fish fillets, mussels, shrimp (heads on), squid, and napa cabbage. The seafood was all pretty good and the soup had a decent amount of flavor. Something makes me think that the hot pot at the 6th Ave location might work a little differently. I hope so, because the way they served it at the 8th Ave location didn't make sense at all. Why would you take up all that table space with a gas burner when the dish is served in a clay pot that can keep the food warm? Why would you need a burner if the food is already cooked?
After reading what I have written so far, it seems like my comments aren't very positive. That is because all the other dishes I had were pretty close to perfect and have been reported on earlier.
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