They only went because they were waiting for a table at another restaurant. It was one of the girls's usual strategy; put your name down, and then go to Spice for appetizers and drinks while waiting. Foolproof. And that is exactly what they did.
The girls almost shrieked from shock, disappointment, hunger and mild sadness, when they heard that the wait for the popular, in an ever more popular trend, noodle spot was three hours. Yes, three hours. Their faces fell, but this was a birthday surprise for the last girl on her way. This was going to be a good night of food and girl talk. So they did not let the news of the three-hour wait discourage them, but it inspired them to implement the strategy, go to Spice.
They walked across the street, to find Spice almost empty. It is one of many, a chain and a trend, spreading across Manhattan. The Thai restaurant chain is partaking in the food trend of noodles and ramen, comfort food from our Asian friends. The décor was definitely hip, minimalist, with holiday touches, like gaudy bows, and large plastic candy canes. But they paid no mind to it all. It was a birthday.
The menu felt short and sweet, and all they really wanted was to start the night off right, taking the pang of hunger out of their bellies and indulging in something to drink.
They each ordered a drink, (two ginger mojitos and a peach bellini) while discussing the potential reaction of their friend they were waiting to surprise and give in to a belated celebration. Their eyes scanned the menu, reading every other word, but not focused on the food, but their excitement.
The drinks came quickly and colorful. The bellini in a delicate glass, a pretty peach color, sweet and decadent. And the ginger mojitos, stood like tall twins, dense with mint and cubes of spicy ginger.
The birthday girl arrived just in time, a quick surprise and warm greetings, and then the topic of food came up, and the appetizers were decided. Quickly and succinctly. For the four of them, all ranging in levels of hunger, they ordered five appetizers. There were moments of indecisiveness, but in the end, the decisions were clear.
Each tidy morsel of shrimp and crab filling was wrapped in delicate green dough. They were steamed to perfection, set on a pool of pale orange sauce. This sauce was a sweet and spicy curry, creamy. It warmed the tongue and added a great kick to the seafood stuffed dumplings. The insides had a kind of sweetness that seafood, especially crab has, and was balanced well with the heat of the sauce. There was even a garnish of purple crunchy rice noodles, adding that crispness lacking in the soft middle and doughy outer layer. The colors were gorgeous and warm, luring them in to more dumplings and embellished girl talk.
The vegetable dumplings had the same jade hue as the seafood dumplings, only inside and out. The filling was a dark hunter green, haunting and memorable. The mashed up broccoli and spinach tasted smooth and disguised, uniform. The flavor was so foreign to the vegetables they represented, but delicious and delicate. They were topped with the questionable looking toasted garlic, for a pop and a crunch. The way they swirled on the plate hypnotized them.
Potsickers are a favorite, generally and in this party. These were just addictive as most, masked in a plain doughy exterior. The filling of these steamed dumplings, were a riot of flavor, a little spicy and meaty. They were heavy and rewarding. The texture was less smooth as the other dumpling friends, but its dissonance created a harmony in the mouth. The accompanying sauce was sweet and sour, adding another layer to the flavor profile, a zip.
They chose the puffy duck on a whim, curious and fascinated. This appetizer added a different texture and component to their list, an element of mystery. These little morsels were like puff pastry, doughy and almost fried, filled with a smooth pate like combination of duck and potato. The inner texture felt like the other dumplings they tried, smooth, consistent and delicious. The puffy duck brought something more substantial to their table, other than their conversation of categories and life as it passes.
The fried calamari was an afterthought to their waitress; she forgot it, but they didn’t. It came after all the other goodies were demolished, and they still looked on the little bowl of calamari and the sweet thai chili sauce with ravenous eyes. It was crunchy on the outside, salty, and textured. The batter was not bland or forgettable, but very present. And the octopus under the batter shell, was tender and felt fresh. They eyed it and snuck rings while reminiscing and updating, snatching the bites in between words.
The delicious food and the just right ambiance, were the perfect start to their birthday celebration. Full enough bellies and laughter were a great prelude and distraction from the wait for the next stage of their adventure. The strategy worked and everything was sugar and spice and everything nice...