From American to Authentic, Thai Flavor Comes Home
When it comes to craving Asian flavors, there are many places in the Northland to call. We have numerous Chinese restaurants, a Japanese hot pot restaurant, the city’s only Malaysian restaurant and several respected sushi joints. But for Thai food, the field has been very limited–until now. Spices Asian Restaurant is throwing their hat in the ring and I’m excited about it.
The barely 2-month-old restaurant filled in the space on Burlington Avenue that once housed the always empty El Chupacabra Mexican Grill and Cantina. While I did not experience the space’s Mexican iteration, I’m more than pleased with Spices’ sleek and modern space. A few Thai decor touches here and there make a space that lets the food do the talking and it has a lot to say. While many new restaurants leave aesthetics by the wayside, it’s a relief to walk into a well designed room that feels welcoming and not nearly as kitschy as many.
I’ve been to Spices twice now and am bound to return as each experience has been not only good but leaves me wanting more. You see, Spices is more than phad thai noodles and curry, although that is certainly available. On our first visit, my husband and I were both borderline hangry so anything was fair game.
The first thing that caught our eye was the crab rangoon dip with wonton chips. I loved the idea of crab rangoon as a dip but sadly, when we tried to order it, our server, a very friendly and accommodating young lady, informed us that they had changed it to be the traditional crab rangoon, Thai style. We were so hungry that we went with it. We were not disappointed.
Thai style, while it really means that the flavors of sweet, salty, sour and spicy are in balance, also means that it is typically a lighter take on traditional favorites. The crab rangoon were fried in the lightest wontons I’ve had, crispy, not oily and filled with a piping hot crab and cream cheese filling that I could have eaten with a spoon. For $5.99, they were a great start to the meal.
I am always wary of ordering phad thai noodles in the States because many restaurants make the dish in what they consider ‘American’ style, with a sauce of sweet syrup almost resembling ketchup. This, of course, bears little resemblance to true phad thai. But when at a Thai restaurant, I feel compelled to start with what many consider the basics so I dove in. Unfortunately, this was the case for my first entree at Spices ($8.99). My dish, while full of flavor, was incredibly sweet, and not at all what I expected. I asked our server about it and she kindly sent the chef over, a small Thai woman, who explained that I just needed to ask for “authentic” style. She offered to remake it for me, but I declined, instead letting my husband finish it the next day. He didn’t seem to mind at all.
His dish, on the other hand, was delicious and very authentic. His phad grapow ($8.99) was a perfect balance of spicy, savory meat and vegetables, with stir fried basil, green peppers and chicken ground up larb style. Topped with an over easy egg, the dish hit all the right notes and gave me hope for another visit.
I’m glad I came back. I stopped in for lunch, sat at the bar and started with the summer rolls ($4.99). Despite being described as moo shu summer rolls, the chef once again told me that the menu had changed and they were now made with chicken and lettuce. The resulting roll was fresh and indeed, summery, on a hot day with the ubiquitous peanut sauce, a personal vice of mine.
I tried to order the phad lemongrass noodles, but the chef steered me away from the dish, indicating that many people didn’t like it. She recommended instead the phad see eew noodles for $8.99. I agreed, stipulating that it should be made as authentically as possible. She didn’t disappoint.
My dish came out chock full of vegetables, mushrooms and chicken, with just enough heat that I inadvertently polished off the whole plate. There was no hint of the sweet flavor that I experienced before. It was a savory, noodly plate of heaven.
There are so many more dishes I want to try: the Thai sausage appetizer, the green papaya salad, the duck soup and each and every one of the curries. The strip center on Burlington is about to become a destination for the Thai cuisine lovers in the Northland, so you better get there before I do!