Friday, July 11, 2008

Rose-coloured Reviews Spice Route

I thought maybe I'd ease into reviewing with something I could have other opinions on, ie., a restaurant. So when I took time out of the whimpering over my proofs to go toSpice Route for Summerlicious I took a notebook and solicited opinions from everyone at the table.

Before I even got to the table though, I was impressed by the big fenced-off patio, the low arch of the door with two wide torches (real flames!) beside it. This place was rumoured to have been a massively expensive renovation, and it sure did look nice. Having heard those rumours, and looked at the street number of the pub next door, I was 99% sure I was in the right place, but technically Spice Route has no sign or number of it's own. Was I missing it?

I went in and asked for our reservation, which they had--I was in the right place. "I'm 15 minutes late, they're probably waiting already," I told the hostess. "Oh, you're not really late," she cooed. Oh, so they run by that sort of time-scale here. I apologized to everyone when I found them--15 minutes waiting is still rude by my lights. Then we all agreed that it was weird not to have the name posted outside, and even *removed* from the menus beside the door, though they were otherwise identical to the ones we were looking at.

If this were a real review, I would've paid attention to everything on the menu, but I forgot, with my focus on the Summerlicious Menu. Which is pretty wide-ranging and interesting. And they make you order three courses right up front, so you have to put a lot of energy into figuring out your desires.

Those decided, you can appreciate the room--out*stand*ing. Huge and multi-level, plus that awesome patio (I would've liked to sit on the patio, but since I was late, I deserved not to get to vote), there's all kinds of fun things going on: a waterfall, a big sculpture made out of what appeared to be jute rope, flat-screen TVs pasted (probably not literally pasted) flat to the ceilings above the bar, showing underwater cameras of fish and coral. Hella cool, is my astute note on the room.

Of the four first-course options, we covered three--the citrus salad was interesting, the tempura calamari good and abundant (although there was some question as to whether the accompanying "Lemon Scallion Aioli" wasn't in fact tartar sauce). I can tell more about the Spiced Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Brandied Hoisin Sauce, since that's what I had--it was adorable! They put the lettuce cups in a tiny bamboo steamer tray. Which makes no sense, but is adorable. They put the sauce in a tiny sake cup. It was hoisin sauce straight out of the bottle, which *is* quite good, but no sign of the rumoured brandying. I think that was just as well.

Ok, the bathrooms: nuts! Instead of a ladies room and a mens room, there was a row of individual bathrooms with their own doors, toilets and sinks, each labelled M or W. They are very very big and lovely, far nicer and larger than mine at home, but they all have uncurtained floor-to-ceiling windows... Ah! Apparently, the windows open onto a cordoned-off alleyway, where the restaurant has installed pretty fountains and grasses and things. Clever, but I betcha it's gone wrong a time or two. Anyway, so now I've peed in front of giant window--great! On the way back to the table, I couldn't help but wonder about later in the evening when the place becomes a club (it very obviously could be a great one with that layout--the dj booth was up a half level; you could only see his feet!) When the place is crowded and lots of boozy people want to pee, are these large elaborate restrooms really the most efficent use of space? There aren't that many; I envision massive lines.

The main courses were an interesting variety, but the vegetarian option seemed sort of lame--brown rice and kimchee? I love kimchee more than most things, but as the main component of the dish...weird. I had Indian Spiced Roast Chicken with Naan Bread, Diced Tomato, Onion and Mango Chutney. It was quite good roast chicken--a leg and a thigh, I think, though I'm not too good with poultry anatomy and they dimmed the lights several times over the course of the meal. It wasn't spicy at all, no more so than a good Sunday dinner roast chicken is, which was a disappointment, and there were either bone splinters or bits of char or...I don't know, something that wasn't food that I had to keep spitting out (dead sexy, I know). Like I say, it was dark. But tasty. And good chutney/tomato thing, and good baby bok choy, although baby bok choy had nothing to do with the rest of the meal. It was just the vegetable they were serving with everything. The naan was pretty meh--it's one of my favourite things on earth when it's served fresh from the tandoor, and pretty close when it's at least hot. This tasted like it came out of a package, and anyway, it didn't really seem to go that well with the dry chicken pieces. Basmati rice as the starch might have been the way to go...

The Mongolian Sirloin Beef with Dry Chili, Scallions, Fresh Ginger and Crispy Rice Sticks that my companions had looked quite good, and was apparently very spicy. I don't eat beef, but I tried some of the sauce on a cabbage leaf and approved.

It was around dessert that I started to feel as if I were dying. I know, we're all dying, but I mean at an accelerated rate. I think this was unrelated to the cuisine--I haven't been sleeping much--but it affect my enjoyment of the three cute little round balls of sorbet that I received. They were tropical flavours, and very nice though I couldn't identify any of them. There were bits of fruit and "sesame praline" all over and a sprig of mint, all very classy. Also a fortune cookie, which was stale, containing the sage advice "Quarrels can be avoided if you are tactful."

My friends had the Raspberry Chocolate Brownie with Caramelized Mandarins and Tangerine Cream. They weren't too interested in the brownie ("it's not really a brownie," someone said) but the bits of fruit and cream were appreciated. We also had some fancy teas, which were quite good and came with an elaborate tray of sugars and milks.

So, overall, a win--rather tasty interesting food in a really cool environment, for not all *that* much money. I couldn't help but think, being the inherently gauche person that I am, that everything we'd ordered is also available at The Pickle Barrel (seriously, everything; check me), and for about the same amount of money, although you'd end up with about 3x as much food. Which is weird, because that lends one to think the better bargain would be PB, but there was exactly enough food at SR. On one hand, I do feel smug when I walk out of restaurant with my little foam tray, thinking I don't have to make lunch tomorrow, but really, it's getting hard to do dinner and dancing, dinner and a show, dinner and anything when you are hauling along half your mammoth salmon steak. I though the portions at SR were really elegant and ideal.

A word on the service at SR, which has been remarked on very favourably in reviews. Our waiter was quite nice and adept, and several other staff helped him out, but he was clearly run off his feet. Maybe it was the Summerliciousness of it all, but whatever tables he had been assigned, it was obviously too much. There seemed to be certain set lines he was supposed to say to get us into the spirit, but since he was actually panting at certain points, some spirit was lacking. I felt a bit bad asking for anything at all, though he did manage beautifully despite the over-burdening.

Overall, yay to Spice Route, then, which seems strange to say since I'll probably never go back. But it was good to go the once.

He could not know another tiger

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