The Spice-ier the Better
October 8, 2011
NEW YORK, USA – I’m always apprehensive of trying a restaurant that has several locations. What was wrong with the first one? Did my favorite spot lose its best chef? With each new restaurant does it lose a bit more of that something that made the original so special?
But at Spice in Union Square I was pleasantly surprised–quality and quantity are clearly not exclusive. Yes, they have four other locations (the original being Uptown), and yes there are more Thai restaurants in New York than there are cabs, but something about this casual spot balances the perfect amount of warm atmosphere with modern Asian flair.
Walking into the restaurant is like entering a loft party at the home of a hip, world-traveling friend. Inside the lighting is dim, and the walls are a muted ruby red. Trendy electronic Thai music plays from the stereo, and friends laugh and hug at the bar. It’s cozy and inviting, but still cool. There was a wait for our table, so a respite at the bar seemed perfectly in order. I’m a bit new to Asian cuisine, so it’s safe to say I never order the right drink, but the bartender was more than happy to lend a hand. While Spice is technically a Thai restaurant, there were numerous pan-Asian options on the beverage menu, and I eventually settled on sake. The helpful barkeep let me sample different styles, describing how each one was made, and even tried to pair it with what I might be eating. Such gracious and knowledgeable service is part of that little extra something that sets Spice apart.
Once seated, we perched on white plastic chairs reminiscent of MoMA installation pieces, and were surrounded by stylish girls in leather bomber jackets and hipster guys in straw fedoras. The scene was cool, but the atmosphere was relaxed, and everyone was busy tucking into large bowls of noodles. After scanning the menu I was a bit overwhelmed by the options. Now don’t get me wrong, I love classics like Pad Thai as much as the next girl, but I thought it was time I expanded my palette. In this adventurous spirit, I ordered the Drunken Man Noodles with tofu, egg, sweet basil, chili, and onion. I was worried the chili would be a bit overpowering but it blended nicely with the fragrant Thai basil. The onions were perfectly translucent, and the tofu was the exact creamy texture I wanted. The portion was overwhelmingly large and the broad rice noodles were really filling, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying each bright and lovely bite. Forget my earlier reservations, this meal still stands out as one of the best Thai dishes I’ve ever had, regardless of the location.
My friends and I passed on dessert, but that gave me just enough time to savor the last sips of my perfectly paired sake. I may have been cautious at first, but after a warm night of trendy food and atmosphere, I can now say–the more locations of Spice the better. Clearly they’re doing something right.