Friday, November 23, 2012

The Spice Table @ 114 S. Central Ave, Los Angeles

Cranking along with my LA food marathon, I had a chance to stop by one of my favorite haunts, Little Tokyo - an area in downtown that fascinates me.  It's like Japanese Food Disneyland, I can get any food I want there in obnoxiously decorated stores in close proximity....  Interestingly, there's a Singaporean/Vietnamese venue in the area that's received a lot of attention in the F&B world, The Spice Table by Chef Bryant Ng, who has been identified by Food & Wine Magazine as one of America's Greatest New Cooks.

The restaurant is housed in a gorgeous building; it's an open warehouse interior with high ceiling, exposed brick walls with giant bird cage lighting fixtures and interior touches creating a incredibly romantic atmosphere.

I had a very good feeling about this restaurant, along with the many accolades, South East Asian food has a special place in my heart.  The combination of sweet with spice just works for me.

Unfortunately, it wasn't off to a great start; I began with a snack app: Peanuts and Fried Anchovies.  Now, never having this dish, my expectations/imagination had probably set me up for an epic disappointment.  (somehow I had imagines fried Sardine fillets in a Peanut sauce accompaniment) At the same time, what came out was more like...really? Seriously?  Basically it was Candied Peanuts and tiny, dry, fried Sardines that you can get cheap at any Asian grocery...and this was six dollars!  Sorry, this is total ripoff, with the overwhelming surplus of sickeningly sweet nuts and minuscule amount of flavorless fish,  it cannot even begin to justify the price on what would be free at any Bar...

Well, my next dish fared much better, unfortunately, it came with my main so there was no timing in terms of service delivery in this restaurant.  A dish that I particularly enjoy is the Kaya Toast: a popular snack that integrates Western culture with the Far East.

Here we have the slow cooked egg broken at the table which came out poached, a skilled and clever move (some places it come out sunny side up), as well the Soy and White Pepper came out separately for individual taste, another astute move from the kitchen.  (sometimes there's an oil spill of Soy that drenches the Egg and wipes the flavor out of everything).

This version of Kaya Toast is actually a process which I really liked. Kaya toast is two pieces of Buttered Bread toasted with Coconut Jam inside,
and after mixing the Yolk and adding the Soy and White Pepper, you dip the Toasted Sandwich and eat.  The Kaya Jam can be overbearingly sweet, However, I found this to be perfect - the Toast had a buttery Popcorn like smell, and as the salt and pepper was suited to my taste-I really loved how this dish was prepared.

So after having fared much better with the Kaya Toast, I moved onto the Main dish: Beef Rendang - a Short Rib Curry + Kaffir Lime + Sambal....and those damn Peanuts!!!! Somehow, they've ended up on another dish, same form (whole and unbalanced, I mean you can crush them up to make them more edible, and with the fifty cent sardines as well).

After pushing the candied Nuts off to the side,  I favorited this dish- the Beef was soft and moist, the Curry was piping hot and savory in the most comforting way.  The Sambal was a robust addition to the Curry and I could have had a whole plate of just that condiment.  The heat was a slow burning ember and by the end I was ready for the waiter to just leave the water pitcher on the table.  

If not for that first disappointing dish,  I would keep Spice Table on my return-to list; but first impressions last and it hard to say that I would come back when there's so many other places to try.  Otherwise it's a very romantic and ambience driven restaurant, with some great dishes and some major pitfalls, if you're in the area and ready for an adventure, try it out.  But my advice: tell the waiter you have a Peanut allergy.

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
The Spice Table on UrbanspoonFood:            3
Ambience:    3.5
Service:        2.5