Judy Jetson: I'm in love.
Judy Jetson: Promise you won't tell?
Rosie: I swear on my mother's rechargable batteries.
The future of fast-casual may have just arrived at SPYCE, which features stir-fried food bowls prepared by a robotic chef (with some help from low-tech humans, who add toppings after the robot has finished the hard work).
Here's a good video of the process:
Our first visit occurred a couple of weeks after Spyce opened in Downtown Crossing, at ~12:45PM on a Tuesday. Not surprisingly, given all the press coverage, the small restaurant was crowded, with a line stretching just out the door (you actually have to enter at a side door that is hidden 20 feet down an alleyway to the right of the main entrance, which added a bit of confusion--better signage would help).
After waiting 10 minute in the line (giving us a chance to chat with Executive Chef Sam Benson), we ordered our customized bowls at one of several computer screens. A staff member was there to answer questions and control the speed of the line so it wouldn't overwelm the 7 robots. Ordering and paying was very quick and easy: I was able to complete my order in ~90 seconds (admittedly, I had previously looked at the menu online so I knew what I wanted). The software is very well laid out, and it also helps that there are relatively few choices (7 different bowls, almost all of which can be customized to be gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan). Apparently it can also remember your previous order to speed things up next time.
It then took about 5 minutes for the robot and humans to hand me a completed bowl and an empty plastic cup for a self-filled drink. This wait was the only unpleasant part of our experience, since all the customers were waiting together in the small area in front of the kitchen. Unfortunately, this is too small a restaurant for the current crowds they are experiencing. The background music and crowd combined for a pretty loud 82dB on the Decible X iPhone app.
Additionally, seating is very limited, with only ~15-18 seats at most (tables and stools). Although there were empty seats during our visit and we were able to grab a 2-top and a spare chair, it seems like Spyce expects many of their customers to be takeout.
As far as the food, I ordered the Chicken + Rice bowl (650 calories), with added avocado-lime creama, and tried a bit of the Latin and Thai bowls as well. Each bowl was tasty and seemingly made from fresh, quality ingredients. The chicken was tender and moist. The flavors/spice levels were on the mild side, although not excessively so. Unlike a couple of reviews on Yelp, I would not characterize the food as bland, and I'm a real spice-nic, but perhaps they should offer some hot sauces.
I was less impressed with the lemon-kiwi lemonade, which I found a bit watery, like drinking Gatorade. I like the fact that it wasn't very sweet, but it definitely need more of an acidic punch.
I paid $11.59 for the bowl, added crema, and a house-made lemonade. A good deal, considering I was fairly stuffed after finishing! I don't understand a couple of reviews complaining about serving size (LOL, they must be used to eating 2 burritos at Chipotle or something excessive like that!).
If I worked nearby, I would definitely be a regular for their quick, tasty and relatively healthy lunches (also open through 10PM).
I wonder if they are going to franchise? If so, I might be interested! This concept could mint money in the right location (anywhere Dilberts or college kids looking for quick, cheap lunches abound).