It’s almost impossible to not feel transported at Spice Market. Maybe that’s because of the 300 artifacts from South and Southeast Asia that adorn the restaurant: teak arches, antique portals from temples, and wooden carvings from South and Southeast Asia.
High ceilings and dark furnishings recall large houses in Southeast Asia, which no matter how oppressive the heat outside, retained their cool inside.
Open since 2004, the restaurant, inspired by the travels of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is an escape for the senses as well as the taste buds.
The menu offers dishes from Southeast Asia (and sometimes India), some in their classic guise, and others with a looser interpretation.
Chef de cuisine Anthony Ricco has been working for most of Spice Market’s existence, and exerting his creative muscle in the culinary development of the restaurant, as well as the other restaurant in the Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group. The classics have endured through the years, but he also introduces new dishes (such as some new ones for brunch debuting Saturday).
World of Flavors
At first bite, the Spicy Thai Chicken Wings are an explosion of flavors—milliseconds pass before one layer of flavor gives way to another. Sweet, hot, savory—the flavors are intense and enjoyable ($14). If you need relief from the heat, it’s served with slices of cooling Asian pear, garnished with mint leaves.
Don’t miss the Tempura Bass Steamed Buns, a marvel in contrasting textures and flavors ($13.50). A light-as-air batter makes the fish crispy, while fried herbs, crispy peanuts, and a nuoc cham sauce, with its sweet, savory, and spicy notes.
Ginger Fried Rice, as simple as it is, topped with a fried egg and fried minced aromatics like ginger and shallots ($11), is addictive.
I wish I could show you a photo of the marvelous pandan dessert I had while there.
We didn’t take a photograph because, frankly, it looked humble and plain. Any child could have taught us a lesson about not judging a book by its cover—the moral of so many fairy tales.
But we were rookies in this regard. The dessert just looked like rice—OK, green rice, deriving its color from pandan (also known as screwpine, which has a grassy sweetness). But boy was it delicious—and in my delicious much more fragrant and flavorful than the pandan desserts I’ve tried at little Thai eateries in Queens.
Equally enticing are the Thai Jewels, with shaved coconut ice at the bottom, festooned with tropical fruits the color of emeralds and rubies, with tapioca pearls, and the fragrances of coconut and jasmine ($10). The dessert, originally created by Pichet Ong when he was pastry chef there, is utterly refreshing.
These flavors also marvelously translate into brunch.
Sometimes you just want good old-fashioned carbs in the form of buttery biscuits.
In fact, Ricco does make biscuits in house. It’s an intensive process to make the dough but he said he couldn’t sleep at night if he didn’t make these from scratch. The biscuits—in their golden buttery gloriousness—are served with a green curry sausage gravy and a fried egg.
It’s a bit of East-meets-West brunch heaven right there.
Pandan finds its incarnation in light green pandan waffles, paired perfectly with small chunks of sweet-tangy roasted pineapples and coconut cream.
Other sweet sides not to miss: irresistible strips of thick ginger-glazed bacon, slices of floral Honey Kiss melon (true to its name, with an aroma just like honey), and a buttermilk biscuit with coconut jam.
Coconut jam is one of those things that should be better known here out West, a sort of Malay/Indonesian answer to dulce de leche, it’s made from coconut milk and sugar and has a delicious caramel-like undertone.
If you can’t do without potatoes, Ricco has a dish for you too. Crispy wedges of potatoes drizzled with sriracha mayonnaise add a small dose of heat along with a delivery of potato goodness.
Grilled cheese also finds its counterpart with a Korean short rib grilled cheese with chili and onion jam; and an omelet also gets a makeover with a spicy tomato sauce and cilantro cream.
The brunch prixe fixe (with main, side, and a nonalcoholic beverage) is $28 per person. But if you come with a group of at least four people, then get the family brunch at $35 per person, which gets you seven dishes to share.
Wash it all down with a Lychee Raspberry Bellini or Ginger Margarita ($13 each).
403 W. 13th St. (at 9th Avenue)
Lunch and Dinner
Sunday–Wednesday 11:30 a.m.–midnight
Thursday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m.