403 West 13th Street at Ninth Ave.
City: New York, NY
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Area: Meatpacking District
The fact that two of the most talented chefs of our time are working in the same restaurant (Jean Georges Vongerichten and Gray Kunz) and are both actually there, cooking (and mingling with the A-List crowds), is pretty exciting to me. Honestly, seeing Gray Kunz back behind the line was a huge culinary turn on. And that JGV, he is so charming and cute! And then I tasted the food. Who needs sex? Just eat here. Furnished from old ruins, floors panels and assorted fragments and artifacts from centuries-old temples in Bombay, and lit with jewel-toned lanterns, Spice Market is an exotic wonderland for the all of the senses. It is sexy, erotic, dreamy, and wildly inviting. Designed by Jacques Garcia, who is best known for the Hotel Coste in Paris, the sultry, moody bi-level space has vaulted ceilings, a 60-foot open kitchen, a downstairs lounge that is a recipe for premature intimacy, and a staff that looks like casting call for a Sex & The City spin-off featuring Smith Jared. People! The place is sizzling. Ouch. Plates are all made for sharing, so just pick a bunch and start your feast (it is wise to go with more than two people so you can try more stuff.) We began with chicken samosas, crisp triangles stuffed with fragrant bits of cumin and chile-spiced chicken that get a cooling kick from a fresh cilantro yogurt dipping sauce ($8). The lobster roll ($14) is a nice light and vibrant snack, made from fat meaty chunks of lobster meat wrapped up like a sushi roll (no rice for you Atkins fans) with sriracha and dill. I loved the green papaya salad with charred long beans, crystallized ginger and tamarind ($8) because it was full of heat and infused with assertive, balanced flavors, but for some it was way too spicy (wimps). Another of my favorite appetizers was the shrimp tod mon pla with cucumber peanut relish ($12). These were sort of like thin, slender crab cakes, without the breading, and with a healthy amount of shrimp and greens mixed in. The sauce, as with many at Spice Market, was delish. Bring some Tupperware and take the stuff home, especially the tomato-chili sauce that comes with the papalam (not papadam, I asked) crackers at the beginning of the meal. Of the fish entrees, I loved the halibut—a thick, dense meaty filet served with a searing sauce of chiles, tomatoes and nuts called Cha Ca La Vong ($23). I also fell hard for the seared sea bass, served in a fiery red tussle of wok-fried kimchee cabbage, water chestnuts and cucumber ($22). I was licking the last bit of pork vindaloo ($15)—soft tender chunks of pork slathered in a sweet-tart sauce made from tamarind and chiles—from its copper casserole. I also tried a terrific green curry with vegetables, and of tasty bowl of chili-garlic egg noodles with seared shrimp and star anise. The food here is exciting and tasty and inspires much smiling. What more do you want? Dessert! Please, whatever you do at Spice Market, don't pass up on dessert. Pichet Ong (who worked with JGV at 66) is a deliriously talented pastry chef. One of his most divine creations is a dish called Thai Jewels. This is his take on the traditional sweet streetfood served in Thailand. To me, at first glance, it looked like a bowl of Lucky Charms, arriving in a deep bowl of what appeared to be filled with frothy milk bobbing with green and red jewels. The jewels are actually water chestnut and tapioca dumplings, not Lucky Charms. They are delicious droplets of sweetness flavored with red and green pandan, served in a foamy coconut sorbet and ice bath swimming with papaya, jackfruit, passion fruit and coconut meat. Go to Spice Market to experience this dessert alone. It is refreshing, startling in texture and taste, and is a perfect end to a spicy meal. Pichet has an amazing Ovaltine dessert on the menu again (as you will recall his fantastic Ovaltine and banana tart was on the menu at 66), but this time it is in the form of a thick fudge-like bar, a dessert that has not failed to make all conversations cease at the table all the three times I have eaten it there. It is insanely dense, so that if you press your spoon into the bar, and then try to lift your spoon up and out, you may actually lift up the entire plate. This is a potato chip dessert. You cannot stop after just one bite. If you can, you have the willpower equivalent of 100 celibate men.
Review By: Andrea Strong