[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: Fancy Street Food, but What a Street

khare at alumni.caltech.edu khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Mon Apr 12 18:31:33 PDT 2004


The article below from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by khare at alumni.caltech.edu.


Stocking up on recommendations on great places to eat for WWW2004! If only I could afford them, though! :-(

Rohit


khare at alumni.caltech.edu


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Fancy Street Food, but What a Street

March 24, 2004
 By AMANDA HESSER 



 

Editor's Note 

As you approach Spice Market, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's
new restaurant on West 13th Street, the stench of blood and
offal from the surrounding meatpacking district
intensifies. It's hardly an olfactory amuse-bouche. 

One evening, a dining companion said, "You'd think that
Jean-Georges would be pumping ginger aroma into the
street." 

I wouldn't put that past him, but then, given Mr.
Vongerichten's capacity for taking pains, the stench could
well be part of his plan: an aromatic undertone, evoking
the street life of Asia and the marvelous street food that
is to come. 

Spice Market thrives on such nuance and allusion. It's not
short on drama, either. Inside its doors lies another
world, a bustling two-story former warehouse transformed by
worn teak beams and balustrades, soaring palms and lavender
silk lanterns, which stretch from the ceiling down into the
basement grotto. The bar is framed in ornate teak stalls,
so that people must lean in - as if in a confessional - to
place their orders. 

A maître d'hôtel with carefully rumpled hair wearing a
"Late Night With David Letterman" T-shirt and a sports coat
takes your name at the door. Lights from the open kitchen
in the rear outline a long row of spectators at the bar. A
large canopy, resembling the top of a Chinese bed, creates
a shadowy garden for a group of diners. Waitresses in silky
persimmon-color smocks, open at the back, sweep through.
Howard Stern and a girlfriend amble by. You are in a James
Bond movie, a high-end bar in Bangkok, a Vong to the 10th
power. 

For years Mr. Vongerichten has toyed with Asian flavors and
clublike restaurants. Mercer Kitchen serves good food with
nods to Asia, but it is dark and unforgivingly loud. A
little more than a year ago, Mr. Vongerichten made a
breakthrough with Chinese cooking at 66: rather than giving
French food an Asian flair, he gave Chinese dishes a dose
of his exquisite minimalism. But the dining room at 66 is
like a hip morgue, and it has failed to woo serious diners.


Since then, Mr. Vongerichten seems to have had an epiphany.
He is not a club owner, but a sensualist. And at Spice
Market, he has hit on something new: casual, exotic luxury
and food that people want to eat. 

That food is street food - a gastronomical genre that is
regarded by some as the best in the world. Only here it is
reworked and polished. Egg rolls stuffed with mushrooms
gleam under Mr. Vongerichten's touch. Softened shiitake and
oyster mushrooms are loosely swaddled in a wrapper that is
fragile and crisp on the outside. A tangy herbal galangal
sauce is whipped into a celadon foam. When you dip the egg
rolls, the sauce clings in a light, loose layer. Vietnamese
spring rolls stuffed with pork, mushroom and shrimp are
more rigidly constructed, and are fried stiff. A waiter
instructs you to wrap the roll in lettuce with fresh mint
and coriander and to dip it in a sweet lime and rice
vinegar broth. A succession of stimulating textures and
vivid flavors - first the lettuce and herbs, then the
crackle of the rolls, with their pillowy filling - flutter
on your palate. 

Many dishes are street food as invented by Spice Market. If
this seems to be taking too much liberty, you must remind
yourself of the headwaiter in the Letterman T-shirt. This
isn't a precise cultural tour. This is a Vongerichten
fantasy. 

And in that fantasy, fat tapioca pearls loom large. They
are simmered with Thai chilies, Sichuan peppercorns,
cinnamon and chipotle, then paired with slivers of raw tuna
in a cool coconut broth sharpened with kaffir lime. The
dish is eaten with a spoon. 

Fried squid is piled atop a salad of papaya, water chestnut
and cashews. Sweet shrimp fritters are dotted with crunchy
bits of long bean and tempered by a relish of peanut and
cucumber cut into minuscule cubes. 

Thai chicken wings are lined up on a plate, coated in a
hot, sticky sauce, fragrant with chilies, soy, lime and
fish sauce. Between the wings, your chopsticks make their
way to slices of mango, there for relief. 

The chicken wings are one of the few dishes motivated by
heat. Mr. Vongerichten uses heat judiciously. In red
curried duck, the warmth offsets a rich coconut and lemon
grass broth, and in pork vindaloo, red finger chilies
balance a powerful blend of cumin, ginger, garlic, cinnamon
and cardamom. 

It is easy to become overstimulated by all the flavors. No
detail eludes Mr. Vongerichten's experimental mind. Even
the ginger ale is homemade. An extract of ginger, sugar and
lime is blended with club soda - a drink with perfect zip. 

There are plenty of good beers and a brief but interesting
list of wines, but it would be a shame to miss the
cocktails. A blood orange mojito is fresh tasting and
herbal, and the splash of acidity makes it an affable
partner to the food. It is difficult not to slug it back.
Order a Pattaya if you are feeling the need for discipline.
It screams with passion fruit but is delicately bubbly. 

I found myself reveling over soothing dishes like ginger
rice, a dish that was never meant to thrill but does here.
The rice is firm, each round bead glazed in oil and
fragrant with garlic and scallion. An egg cooked sunny side
up with ginger and garlic is flipped onto the rice. As you
dip your spoon into it, the egg spreads and coats the rice
grains, making them creamy, lovely. 

But the dish that explains why Spice Market is such an
extraordinary pleasure is Thai jewels. Tiny bits of sweet
water chestnut are glazed with tapioca, dyed candy colors
like cherry red and lime green. These jewels are blended
with palm seeds and slivers of jackfruit and papaya, then
heaped onto a nest of coconut ice. It is fruity, nutty,
cold and slushy, a wonderful mess of flavors, not unlike
Lucky Charms. You won't forget it - and several other
desserts are nearly as memorable. 

Ovaltine kulfi is dense and malty, like a Snickers bar
coated with spiced popcorn and fennel seed. And a chocolate
and Vietnamese coffee tart comes warm, topped with a pouf
of milk foam. Its chocolate crust is as fragile as a dry
leaf and gives way to a deliciously rich, smoky chocolate
mousse. 

There's more to say but no room to write it. So go. But do
not simply flit from your taxi to the door. First, fill
your lungs with the aroma of the street - a sensual relic
of old New York. Then suspend disbelief and save room for
the Thai jewels. 

Spice Market 
*** 

403 West 13th Street (Ninth Avenue), Greenwich Village;
(212) 675-2322. 

ATMOSPHERE The air of a high-class Thai bar serving
polished street food. 

SOUND LEVEL A din of music and chatter, diluted by a vast
space. 

RECOMMENDED DISHES Spring rolls; pork satay; shaved tuna;
crunchy squid salad; pork vindaloo; ginger fried rice;
chili-garlic egg noodles with seared shrimp; Ovaltine
kulfi; Thai jewels. 

SERVICE A flutter of skilled servers, some scantily clad.


WINE LIST Brief but tempting. Excellent cocktails. 

HOURS Dinner, Monday through Wednesday, 6 p.m. to midnight;
Thursday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. 

PRICE RANGE Dinner, appetizers, soups and salads, $6.50 to
$14; entrees, $6 to $29; desserts, $6 to $14. 

CREDIT CARDS All major cards. 

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS Electric
lift at entrance. 

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 
(None)|Poor to satisfactory 
*|Good 
**|Very good

***|Excellent 
****|Extraordinary 
Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, ambience
and service, with price taken into consideration. Menu
listings and prices are subject to change. 

Editor's Note: March 31, 2004, Wednesday 

A restaurant
review in the Dining section last Wednesday about Spice
Market, on West 13th Street in Manhattan, awarded it three
stars. The writer was Amanda Hesser, The Times's interim
restaurant critic. Last May, before her assignment to that
post, Ms. Hesser published a book, "Cooking for Mr. Latte,"
that was praised in a jacket blurb by the restaurateur
Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who later opened Spice Market.
He wrote: "Amanda Hesser's charming personality shines as
the reader experiences the life and loves of a New York
City gourmet. `Cooking for Mr. Latte' is perfectly seasoned
with sensuality and superb recipes." The review should have
disclosed that background. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/24/dining/24REST.html?ex=1082819893&ei=1&en=4ee00d9960191c5b


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