Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Spice Table: Stylish and fragrant in Little Tokyo

The Spice Table is on Central, next to Weiland Brewery
L.A.'s newfound devotion to modern Vietnamese has taken a giant leap forward with The Spice Table,
which adds Singapore flavors and a urban rustic feel to the former Cuban restaurant in Little Tokyo.
While Sang Yoon's Lukshon near Culver City offers a long menu of Asian-influenced dishes in a sleek modern space, The Spice Table is definitely more Downtown (and just steps from the Gold Line station!). The weathered brick walls and filament lighting in Vietnamese bird cages make space feel more like a restaurant in Portland or San Francisco -- it's warm and inviting, buzzing with conversation and a soundtrack of non-offensive music from the likes of Coldplay, U2 and the Cure.
For now, the menu is fairly brief, though lunch service with house-baked baguettes for banh mi is in the offing. Dishes are based on Singapore, where chef Bryant Ng (opening chef at Pizzeria Mozza) has roots, and Vietnam, where Ng's wife Kim has roots.

The menu is mostly small plates; we didn't try any of the main courses though spicy mackerel and coconut grilled in banana leaves looked fun to try -- others include chicken curry, oxtail and short rib stew and catfish claypot. 
Pâté is a good way to start

House-made  pâté will ably stave off the initial hunger pangs -- it's served with a dish of aioli on soft baguettes that are surely only a pale imitation of what's to come from the bread oven eventually.
Everyone who's been there already mentions the fried cauliflower with a light tempura coating ($7). I still prefer the roasted version at the Lazy Ox, but this one is nicely executed with a salty, spicy dipping sauce that brings the dish to life.
The Singapore influence is seen in the satay section of the menu, which offers chicken, pork, beef, lamb belly and chile prawns. We went for the less-usual lamb belly ($10), and it was tender and just fatty enough carry the lamb flavor, served with the traditional peanut sauce. Kon loh mee was a flavorful bowl of noodles with ground pork ($12) that would have been excellent had it just been served hot instead of tepid.

Though the waiter cautioned we wouldn't have enough food, we were actually fine with the addition of kaffir lime custard, a well-balanced and refreshing end to a light but rich meal. There's also house-made soft serve ice cream, but I had already been to Scoops for lunch, so next time...
The beer list of mostly draft Californian selections is well thought-out with the choice of a 4 oz. sample glass, a 12 oz. pour or a pint. Abita Amber and Alesmith IPA were perfect with our deeply-flavored small plates; other beers on the list include The Bruery's Rugbrod and Orchard White, North Coast Brewing Pranqster and Le Merle Saison, Napa Smith Pilsener, Craftsman Heavenly Hefe and Singapore's Tiger beer in bottles.
Though it's early days, the Spice Table seems like just the kind of restaurant Downtown needs -- multicultural, comfortable and stylish, not too too expensive, with real attention to flavors and drinks -- now if they could just get the baguette oven up and running.
The Spice Table
114 S. Central



Pho Citi Noodle Soup 24 Hours said...

Hey, foodies, if you like Vietnamese food you might want to try Pho Citi. Affordable & just voted best Vietnamese resto in LA by LA Hotlist voters. http://phociti247.blogspot.com/2011/03/pho-citi-voted-las-best-vietnamese.html

Anthony said...

Lots of Vietnamese baguettes are very soft, so could it be that it is intended that way? The hard, crusty American style baguette produced by our best bakers is to my mind an abomination -- bread becomes a main course rather than an accompaniment. Vietnamese-style is closer to French style, which to my mind is ideal.

In any case, will check out Spice Table soon (sounds great, thanks for the tip), and will hope that their baguette is soft and yummy.

Anonymous said...

thought that place was overpriced/underwhelming/too little portion for price...mehhhh

Unknown said...

Maybe we'll try this at the next Ciclavia! We scootered right past it. I think the kids would like it.

Anonymous said...

Let me save you a fair amount of money and time - take the kids to Chinatown or J town. The portions are woefully small and overpriced. Its a rare thing to be 'told' how much to order by the waitstaff. Fine if the food is spectacular, but a real annoyance when its merely acceptable. I had high hopes for this place, but thankfully there are many places just minutes from Spice Table that are far more deserving of my time and appetite.