Friday, March 5, 2010

Spice Market's Bento Box Lunch

Many moons ago I loved NY's Spice Market. It was dark and chic and oh so trendy...the kind of place you felt very hip for going, and the Asian street food menu was still pretty darn unique. Fast forward to today - despite my previous love for Spice Market, I still hadn't ventured to the Atlanta outpost at the Midtown W. Mostly, I think I'm a NY food snob. Anything other than the original just doesn't compel me, and Spice Market had it's moment circa 2005.Nevertheless, I was tempted by their new lunch special to finally give Atlanta's Spice Market a try. Their bento box is $16 and comes with quite an array of small Asian fusion dishes:

  1. Thai Chicken and Coconut soup
  2. A choice of lamb or beef skewers
  3. A choice of salads, basically with avocado or without
  4. A choice of salmon or cod
  5. A choice of brown rice or jasmine
  6. Pickled cauliflower and peppers
  7. A choice of ice cream or sorbet.
The setting is dramatic - high ceilings, hanging ropes, and unlike the NY original, lots of floor to ceiling windows. Personally I preferred the sexiness of the darker NY setting, but this is still very cool, and probably seems more sophisticated by night.

We found a largely empty dining room, so getting a seat is no problem. Alas, service was incredibly attentive but the food still arrived slowly. So don't go in a rush. That said, if you have time linger, it was a delightful lunch and ultimately worth the wait.

Mr. AT and I both thoroughly enjoyed our soup. I'd read previous complaints about saltiness, but that was not an issue for us at all. It was creamy and full of flavor and not even a little salty. Salad was a bit of a misnomer for what was ultimately avocado with slices of radish and a tempura onion ring. Still it tasted good, so I don't really care what they call it.

Although my lamb was well prepared, I preferred Mr. AT's beef skewer as it came with a dipping sauce which made it more interesting and flavorful. My cod was well seared and moist and the chili glaze offered a different flavor from the ubiquitous miso glaze you usually find at Asian fusion restaurants. I found the rice pointless, as there was nothing that really got better when combined with rice (no sauces to sop up!), so I mostly ignored it. Still, I liked that they offered a brown rice as I find that hard to come by usually (Spoon I'm talking to you, get with the program).

My only real complaint about the bento box was the format itself. Usually bentos have a fairly low profile, but these had items of varied enough size, and it was packed full enough, that navigating it was a bit difficult. I was never quite sure where to lay my silverware, and I felt a bit like I was leaning over one dish to get to another. Nevertheless, we enjoyed lunch regardless of the bento logistical challenges!

We also sampled fresh ginger sodas which were so very yummy. Tangy and fizzy but not too much, it was a perfect way to start the meal. But it was the ending that was best of all. Our ice creams arrived in cute little takeout boxes. Mr. AT chose Vietnamese coffee flavor, and his had a very smooth, creamy consistency. Mine was banana macadamia and was thicker and chunkier. Both were AMAZING. I rarely get excited about ice cream, but my banana macadamia nut was so full of flavor - if I hadn't been full I would have finished it off completely. Worth a trip to Spice Market just for that!

All in all, I was impressed. For an outpost of a restaurant and an Asian fusion trend past it's prime, it was pretty darn good. You can imagine this being a sexy scene at night, and if you work in midtown $16 for a satisfying and varied lunch is worth the splurge. I could do without the $6 valet service, though. If you're eating at the restaurant, can't they offer something a bit more reasonable (read: free). I guess I'll just never feel good about paying for parking in Atlanta, especially not for lunch. Barring that annoyance, though, venturing to Spice Market to test out the bento lunch special is definitely worth it.

Pros: tasty and varied lunch for $16, amazing ice cream, dramatic atmosphere, no trouble getting a table
Cons: food slow to come out, expensive parking

Spice Market
in the Midtown W
188 14th Street, NE
Atlanta, GA 30361
Tel: (404) 549-5450

Spice Market (W Atlanta Midtown) on Urbanspoon



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