The resurgence (or …surgence?) of downtown LA has resulted in a bunch of new restaurants, of which The Spice Table was the first I finally got to (bum a ride from a kind friend and) try. Along with a few other LA newbies (like Red Medicine and Susan Feniger’s Street), Spice Table has an eclectic Asian-fusion menu, with strong Southeast Asian influences, some street food adaptations, and a bare-brick, low-lighting industrial look. The open hearth and the sizzling meats on rotation made for easy admiring while we hungrily waited for our table.
We started with the creamed kale (with grilled pork belly and housemade paneer) and spareribs (with Vietnamese caramel sauce). Although firmly rooted in the soul food armament, creamed vegetables aren’t usually my thing – Chinese food rarely cooks vegetables down that much, so that consistency and heaviness always seems a bit foreign. But the paneer is a really clever touch, a clean flavor and smooth texture that blends in with the kale. The ribs were tender, and the fried shallots were a big plus.
We moved next to kaya toast (a Singaporean street food) and black pepper crab toast (also of Singaporean influence). I especially enjoyed the crab toast, bold and spicy and a great topping for the crispy bread. The kaya toast would have been better with stronger coconut jam (which in my layman’s opinion is the best part of kaya toast), but the sweet-salty combo is a perfect flavor platform.
The heavier dishes came afterwards: rice-stuffed fried quail, grilled pig’s tail (eaten with fish sauce in a lettuce wrap), and a bowl of laksa, with a side of fried cauliflower that arrived a bit late. Most of these last dishes were tasty, particularly the fried cauliflower (Pizzeria Mozza served a similarly awesome, albeit differently flavored, version). The pig tail, almost identical to pork belly in consistency, was nicely contrasted with the fish sauce. But unfortunately the mains were somewhat overshadowed by the preceding dishes. To be fair to Spice Table, I haven’t had great laksa anywhere outside of Asia (disclaimer: I haven’t been to Singapore or Malaysia), but I’d skip this version next time.
I appreciated that creative Asian-influenced concepts are making headway in LA (where, particularly outside the San Gabriel Valley, there is a surprisingly dearth of solid, Asian non-Japanese options). Having tried Spice Table, I’d gladly have the crab toast, creamed kale, and the ribs again. Perhaps for drawback of being downtown, Spice Table is hard for Westsiders (as I once was) to make into a more regular spot, since it serves what amounts to creative comfort food. If instead the point is to try and explore the most inventive fusion concepts with Southeast Asian cuisine, I would probably also still prefer Red Medicine. Perhaps if and when I get more into sambal and satay, I’ll hitch another ride out east. But, with no intended sarcasm or condescension, I really enjoyed the effort.