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Cafe Spice -- short report

d
Dave Feldman Jul 24, 1999 02:14 AM

There were several reports about Cafe Spice *before*
it opened, but other than a reference to Robert
Sietsma's non-enthusiastic review in the Voice (the
URL expired, unfortunately), I don't think anyone has
posted about actually eating there.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Cafe Spice. I went
with two experienced Indian eaters (one Indian) and we
all enjoyed it tremendously, and agreed on the
strengths and weaknesses of particular meals.

Cafe Spice bills itself as an "Indian Bistro" and in
this case, the expression fits. It's a lively and
noisy scene, but it was an upbeat and non-uptight
crowd, and from my point of view, a more pleasant
experience than Dawat.

Each entree is accompanied with a mound of basamati
rice, naan (I've never seen "free" naan in any non-
buffet Indian restaurant), lentils, and a seasonal
vegetble -- last night a tremendous okra dish.
Average entree costs about $15 including all of the
above. Vegetarian entrees are a little less.

We ordered three appetizers: the jingha masaledar, a
disappointing dish with four smallish shrimp in a
ginger-flavored tomato sauce; delicate salmon tikkas;
and a lamb "dosa petite." I've never heard of
stuffing a dosai with minced lamb. As the name
implies, the "wrap" is much smaller than a traditional
dosa. But the filling was fabulous, sort of like a
fabulous samosa filling (although a little wetter).
The thin dosa couldn't contain the filling, but it
mattered not, because the meat was so tasty and it was
accompanied by an ineffectual coconut chutney and a
fabulous tomato-chili sauce that was fabulous.

For entrees, we had one vegetarian misfire (mustard
greens that were turned into generic mush; the
refreshing chicken w/fenugreek, spinach and coriander,
a felicitous combination, the most balanced, craftily
spiced dish we encountered; and another winner, the
barrah, lamb chops marinated in seasoned yogurt and
cooked in the tandoori oven. Like the lamb dosa,
flavor combinations exploded in the mouth. Subtle?
Maybe not. But addictive. I was thinking about this
dish all day.

Service was friendly. Most of the servers were not
Indian (extremely unusual) but much of the clientele
was. I really wanted to try the homemade mango ice
cream with mango slices, or the shahi tukda (a sort of
bread pudding with dried fruits) but portions were
generous and filling.

I'll be back.

  1. p
    pat hammond Jul 26, 1999 11:21 AM

    Dave, I reported on Spice Cafe after it opened, in a
    post last October 16. I took my family and some
    friends there. We all enjoyed it very much too. I
    think that was the same trip that I visited Babbo for
    the first time. pat

    4 Replies
    1. re: pat hammond
      r
      R.L. Johnson Jul 26, 1999 12:28 PM

      Great Cafe Spice review in the Aug Gourmet.

      1. re: R.L. Johnson
        r
        Robert Sietsema Jul 28, 1999 08:30 PM

        Got to stick by my guns--in a revisit just a few months ago I found the same things to object to: harsh spicing, but oversimplified as well. Instead of 20 flavors per dish, there were one or two. Some servings meager for the price. Over-reliance on bottled sauces, such as the green coriander that you can buy in any Indian grocery, used with almost everything. The identical raw vegetable salad on every plate, undressed, flavorless, just taking up room. Anyone who stuffs a dosa with meat should be shot! It's a betrayal of all that's good about South Indian cooking.

        But if you guys like it so much, I think I better try it again.

        1. re: Robert Sietsema
          d
          Dave Feldman Jul 29, 1999 02:05 AM

          Robert,

          Maybe we were lucky and hit some of the highlights on
          our trip to Cafe Spice, but enough was terrific to
          make me think otherwise. In general, the food is
          lusty (from your pov, harsh -- that's the one
          criticism of yours about the food that I can
          understand), but none of the food we had matched your
          description.

          And I understand your incredulity about a dosa filled
          with lamb. Just don't think of it as a dosa, but as a
          wrap made with the same dough as a dosa. My short
          review included several misfires, so maybe it's a
          matter of you having particularly bad luck and me
          having particularly good.

          But I haven't found any Indian place downtown that
          I've been that enthusiastic about since the Modern
          Indian Restaurant (which was strong only a few dishes,
          but luckily ones that I love) on 2nd Ave. closed many
          years ago.

          1. re: Dave Feldman
            k
            Kendra Jul 29, 1999 05:29 PM

            I'm not an Indian food expert, but if you're looking
            for another place to try in the neighborhood, people
            in my office regularly order from India Pavilion, 35
            West 13th street. It's not as spicy as Cafe Spice,
            but I find it much more flavorful, and the portions
            are generous.

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