Provoking the Palate is pretty much what it sounds. It is about food that is so stunning and absolute it forces your senses into action. Before the food has even hit your tongue—it has visually and aromatically awakened your every appetite. Thus enticed, the fork presses down on some juicy, sumptuous morsel. Realization slams home that the crackling has continued inside your mouth and has now melded with the velvety feel of the tender layer underneath. The entirety perfectly sinful, perfectly seasoned. From intense and robust flavors to the teasing lilt of something wholly other…Provoking the Palate aims to appreciate all the nuances of each ingredient and its preparation—provided it has all been executed well in the style it is served in…

Cranberry Vanilla Sparkler

During the summer, I am always concocting some effervescent drink that's "semi-healthy" yet...tasty. This is one that I do a lot of throughout the year when watermelons aren't in season. Below is both an adult version and a child-friendly one. Let me know your thoughts!


Recipe:

1 shot of Chopin or Ketel One Vodka
1/2 cup Adam & Eve Cranberry juice (no-added sugar version that also doesn't add a sweetener)
1 cup San Pellegrino or Perrier Sparkling h20
1 tbs. Monin or Torani Vanilla syrup
1/4 Wedge of Lime or Lemon
Sprig of Spearmint or Genovese Basil
Ice


Directions:

Mix the vanilla syrup, vodka, and cranberry juice first.  Squeeze the lime juice into the mixture. Then, add the sparkling water to the glass.  Stir.  Add ice and top with the mint or basil.   Let sit for 5 minutes so the herb can release its essence into the drink.  Add ice and enjoy!

For a kid-friendly version, just leave out the vodka--it's like healthy soda!

Spice Market: A One Trick Pony...


The Reviewed:      Spice Market
Location:              403 West 13th Street
                            New York, NY  10014
                            212.675.2322

Overall Rating:     3/5
Service Rating:    1/5
Food Rating:        3/5

Impressions:       Southeast Asian Cuisine.  Meatpacking District.  Gorgeous and opulent decor.  Outside seating available.  Private rooms available.  Round tables far too small to accommodate their toted "family-style dining" concept.




Spice Market on Urbanspoon
The Service:  After walking in, we were seated much sooner than the 30 minutes we were told we'd have to wait--a great beginning.  Prior to being seated we managed to get a seat at the extremely small bar where, after consulting the cocktails menu--I ended up asking for a concoction of my own--a twist on one of their signature creations.  The bartender seemed disgruntled that I'd make my own up but conceded.  As he handed my drink to me, he said, "I'm not sure this will taste that great..."  He wasn't sure--but I was, and that made me question the palate/experience of my bartender.  Not something one ought to wonder about at an establishment by the very famous owner/chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at one of his outposts...The drink was the "Lychee Raspberry Bellini" and if you want to see the cocktail I requested, please check the end of this post.  

The service went further downhill after this.  The wait staff walked around with tunnel vision, not wanting to look at anyone lest they be asked for service.  There were at least 5 times that we waited around to wave someone down.  If you can get hold of them they weren't too bad--but "not too bad" is just not a good enough phrase for an establishment that has an appetizer priced at $16.50.  I asked for a second helping of my drink--and they brought me their "Lychee Raspberry Bellini" instead.  I waited around for a while before capturing the attention of the server and asked him to remake it the way I asked.  Lychee, while not a particularly strong flavor, is a very recognizable flavor once you've tasted it.  I am Asian--I have most definitely tasted it, and I tasted it in my drink.  

We finished our meal and waited around for 10 minutes before someone came to offer us a dessert menu.  No joke.  I had planned to order dessert but at this point all my limbs were tapping away in the insane dance of someone whose patience has definitely worn thin through neglect.  I asked for our leftovers to be wrapped up and was greeted with stunned and/or sullen silence.  I repeated myself.  Yes, some people might think it isn't proper, but as someone in the customer service sector--you aren't doing your job if you try and make someone feel bad for asking for a doggie bag.  As it is, I didn't feel bad.  I never do.  I paid for it, after all.  Besides, 99% of the time, my leftovers doesn't make it home.  I'm in NYC--there is always someone along the way to the subway that would appreciate a good meal.  In fact, I urge everyone that has leftovers to ask for it.  I might have been dissatisfied with what I ate--but if I was the guy that asked the people ahead of me for $0.80 so he could afford to buy a hotdog, I am willing to bet I wouldn't be so picky.  He was, of course, the lucky recipient of my left over Spice Market meal. 

Complimentary Hors D'Oeuvres:  At the bar, placed in front of us were peanuts inside a thin round cracker cover (rather popular Asian-style snack)--one lightly dusted with wasabi and the other doused in a chewy Chinese 5 spice blend.  Unfortunately, this would not be the last I smelled and tasted of this extremely pungent and aggressive flavor--rendered even angrier by its wanton use here.  Make no mistake--this is a flavor I actually love--but the heavy-handed use all but killed my palate.  Once seated, we were given a nice, light and crisp papadam served with a semi-thick cold curry as a dip.  Here again, the star anise's powerful presence was on display, albeit to a much lesser degree than in the peanuts.  I would not have minded its presence as much here if I wasn't already overloaded on the spice earlier.  Usually, its fragrant and refreshing qualities play off nicely against papadam, which as light and crispy as it is--has a somewhat bitter hit to it.

Ordered Dishes:

Mussels Steamed w/Lemongrass, Thai Basil, Dried Chili and Coconut Juice --  The broth was nice and light and the overall flavor was nice, but there was definitely something lacking in the dish.  After taking my spoon and sipping the broth by itself, I realized what it was--potency.  The broth was lovely enough on its own, but when eaten with mussels that were not that fresh and served with a side of rice--a rather forgettable and lackluster letdown.

Ginger Fried Rice --  I was told by the waiter that this was the dish they were known for.  It slightly scares me that an upscale restaurant would claim their best dish is fried rice.  However, because of his claim, we ordered it.  I honestly wasn't expecting too much, just something relatively normal--it's fried rice for goodness's sake.  If you can't make fried rice at this level I honestly don't know what to say.  The fried egg on top was lovely and done well (but really, it's a fried egg).  The flavor of the dish itself was bland and the ginger was barely present.  None of these things bothered me too much, but something did.  What, you ask?  It was the heavy taste of oil bordering on Crisco feel that drenched my rice and plate.  It was the greasiest fried rice that ever sunk itself onto my tongue.  When I moved the rice to the sides of the plate--I was greeted by a glistening layer of oil about 1-2 centimeters thick.  No joke.

Crispy Pork Belly w/Tamarind Nouc Cham --  The two hardest cuts of pork--the belly and the cheeks.  That said, I fell in love with this dish.  It is single-handedly the best done pork dish I've ever had at a restaurant.  You would think pork was a terrible piece of meat if not in the form of a slab of bacon or minced to pieces as sausage the way you receive it at most restaurants.  My thoughts?  If you can't serve it well like this--you should just forego having a pork dish at your restaurant.  This pork stole my heart and saved the entire experience.  The pork was meltingly tender--and I'm not just talking about the fatty layer--the meat itself just pulled apart deliciously on my fork.  And then--my mouth met the perfectly crispy skin, not too crisp with just a hint of chew.  Don't even get me started on the melt-in-your-mouth feel of the fat underneath.  I nearly swooned in relief that I didn't just waste a ton of money on a terrible meal.  I very nearly forgot the terrible service.  Here the star anise came into play as well, but this time--it scented and perfumed the pork.  It played in tandem to the textures of the pork, and mostly, it didn't kill off any other flavors the pork had seasoning it.  You didn't even need the rather weak and watery nouc cham with the missing tamarind flavor to enjoy the pork, and indeed, I didn't bother after tasting it.  I will say it again--this was the best done pork I've ever had at any restaurant.

Grilled Strip Steak w/Garlic, Coriander and Sesame --  The worst dish of the night by far (though my companion thought it was better than the pork, but he has something against the star anise flavor), which was a shame since the combination should have rendered the flavor sublime.  The steak was cooked perfectly medium-rare, so it wasn't for lack of execution and it was tender enough.  One of the problems was the generously slathered on green sauce...a sauce that was far too salty to be so liberally pasted on.  It was also in a fight to the death with the overpowering bitter char on the steak (garlic by itself when overcooked will turn bitter, add sesame to it and you have 2 elements that produce the same bile effect). 

Overall Assessment:  As anyone that has read the "About Me" link knows--I am constantly looking out for great Southeast Asian cuisine.  So, when I had heard about the fabled and gloried Spice Market I was pretty excited, if tentative (because of numerous terrible experiences in NYC).  An outpost of the famous Jean-Georges Vongerichten--how can I go wrong?

I grew up with parents that both excelled in the culinary arts.  My dad’s food was regional and limited to the cuisine of Southern Laos, but it was still spectacularly done.  My mother was, and is, a phenomenal chef—specializing in Southeast Asian and French cuisine.  From a very young age I was exposed to quality food, both traditional and fusion.  Some years I went without new shoes—but I certainly never lacked for incredible and varied food.  Yes, Southeast Asian food is potent and strong and robust--but it is certainly more than the star anise flavor Spice Market would have you believe.

Plus, you can bet I've never seen these prices at those street vendors in Asia--even without taking into account the currency exchange!  Service was terrible and most of the dishes were just "ok"--definitely not worth the price. For a restaurant that says it was inspired by the street food offered in Southeast Asia it even failed in that.  That said...I'd brave the terrible service and overpriced menu for the "Crispy Pork Belly w/Tamarind Nouc Cham" alone, skipping their nouc cham.  It was seriously that good.  That pork belly gives me hope that maybe...just maybe; there might be other gems to warrant me giving them a solid 3 stars...

Author's Note:  Coming soon!  After each trip to a restaurant and the subsequent review you see here please visit my blog titled, "Evoking the Essence of..." at the Bromography site.  There, you will see recipes inspired by the flavors used at whatever restaurant I reviewed.  The good and/or the bad!  If you don't live in NYC you can bring a taste of what you read to your dinner table!  The recipes created are not meant to be replications/recreations of the dishes reviewed.  They are inspired by the best and/or worst of what went in my mouth.  In the case of the best--you will see a recipe that was inspired by the very best of what captured my focus and flooded my mouth.  In the case of the worst--you will see a dish I would have rather eaten made with the same overlying ingredients.  The two sites work together--this site to entertain you with unbiased reviews and the other to impart some recipe inspired by my experience at that particular institution.  Remember to check both sites--you will not see a repeat on either!  Also, at some point, I will have some good old-fashioned giveaways!  Enjoy!

Photo credits:  
--Grilled Strip Steak taken from the official site of Spice Market
--All other photos taken by Sai Sisavatdy 

Bromography

The Beginning of This Particular Journey:


A few months ago while surfing a few volunteer sites, I came upon an opportunity that meshed a few of my many interests together--my insane love for food, my quiet and underutilized passion to pen, and the desire to make a difference...


The opportunity that presented itself came in the form of Bromography. How is this food blog different from others? Well--for one--the net proceeds go to support the wonderful business-minded, non-profit organization Kiva. Kiva is an organization that empowers people. It allows people a real chance at making a direct difference in their lives by lending them money for their business. What's more--100% of that loan goes directly to the person you choose to lend your money to! To learn more about Kiva or Bromography please click the links provided.


The Unfolding:


After signing on with Bromography, my sister (subsequently an incredibly talented artist/photographer) inquired whether or not I'd also have my own site. I shied away from that originally, but realized the double exposure would benefit Bromography's ability to help Kiva even more, so I agreed (also helps that she did the leg work while I described what I was looking for--I won't front that I'm a complete saint!). What you see here is our combined efforts--her with her mastery of images and artistry--mine with my love of food and words!


The Request:


As this is for a wonderful cause--please do check out both my blog here and the one at Bromography--and don't forget to spread the word along!


The Future of This Blog:


Don't despair--yes, this is a food blog and in the future, it will all be about food! This site will have reviews of restaurants (mainly NYC Metro area based unless I travel), blurbs on food events, recipes, interviews with folks involved in the culinary field and the occasional shout-outs to any of the aforementioned organizations.


I hope you'll enjoy this journey as much as I will producing it!