We drove down King Street desperately searching for parking on a busy Friday night. There was no indication as to whether or not the restaurant offered parking, so we turned into a back lot hoping to steal a spot, but it too was also full. With a growling stomach and eager appetite, I told my dad to hold on while I ran into the restaurant to ask where we could park. A young waiter said that the back lot belonged to Spices but that it was likely full. No kidding. He put down his dishes and walk out with me, gave King Street a look up and down and proclaimed, “there’s one parking there. Across the street. You see it? It’s the last one!” Getting ready to move in action, I started to sprint back to my parent’s car to tell them to busssy on over to the spot before it was taken. What the waiter did next surprised me. He whipped on a wicked grin and said, “Stay here. I stand in the spot and hold it for you!” Chee! When was the last time a waiter offered to stand in and hold down a parking spot for you? This was one nice guy! So we got our spot and our whole family was embarrassingly thankful. The night was off to an optimistic start.
We were brought menus and water promptly after being seated. Mint water anyone? A simple yet memorable touch. Not enough restaurants, especially Asian ones, take the time to add such a thoughtful bit to the dining experience.
We started with an appetizer of Spices’ Shrimp ($10.95). Holy crap this was good. 6 large pieces of succulent sweet shrimp was wrapped in a savory paste of pork and cha lua along with various spices. Battered in a delicate panko like crust and deep fried till the perfect shade of crispy brown gold, it was a quite a symphony for the taste buds. The welcoming crunch of the crust revealing a fist of juicy meats and the a bite of tender sweet shrimp in all it’s simplicity. You would have wanted me to save you a piece. J
The Spicy Papaya Salad ($8.95) was fine – nothing exceptional or particularly bad. My mom makes this dish pretty often and I like her version better due to personal spicy-sweet balances as well as having the papaya more thinly sliced. As with all the dishes, we were given a choice of “spice” level and choose “Spices Spice,” the hottest level for the salad. We were warned by the waiter that it was VERY spicy and while it was indeed quite hot, I was anticipating more considering the exaggerated expressions he used to describe “spicy.” Like THAT (boggled eyes, mouth in a big “O”) SPICY!”
These next three entrees were all good except for a single element in each that brought it down from above average to the “almost-oh-no!” level. An order of Beef Eggplant with garlic, onion and holy basil stir fry ($12.95) came sopping in a salty thin broth. The eggplant was fantastic, cooked tender while still remaining a bit of firmness and just the right bite. Plenty of basil and some green onions were appropriate compliments. However the beef. It was seriously not beef. More like think chewy brooown stuff. Very thinly cut. Hard. Chewy Chewy. And just not good. I should have opted to have tofu in place of the beef/mystery meat.
They do an awesome job with eggplant here as evidenced by both the stir fry and the Green Curry with Pork, eggplant, bell peppers, garlic (13.95). Served in a white boat dish the curry was a promising mellow green color. Plenty of eggplant along with sweet cuts of vibrant red bell pepper, crunchy and sweet were delicious with the sticky rice ($4.00).
But the curry itself? Salt! The curry flavor was there but someone must have accidentally knocked in a quarter container or Morton’s. You couldn’t place any more than a dab of curry (which was very liquidy) on a scoop of rice for fear of salt overdose. Talk about killing taste buds. I ended up picking out the veggies and wiping them along the side of the bowl before eating it with the rice. Such laborious curry!
$11.95 is the most I’ve paid for Chicken Pad Thai and I don’t think I’ll do it again. The initial chopstick twists were good, if nothing special. Presentation, like most things in the restaurant were classy but not overdone. I was content. For the moment. But then my dad pointed out the excessive sweetness of the noodles…and then the greasiness. Just goes to show you how sharp my taste buds are! (Musta been the salt…) The only thing I initially picked up on was the slightly undercooked noodles. We took the leftovers home and were slightly mortified upon seeing a giant puddle of oil that formed on the bottom of the Styrofoam container. You and your wallet are better off sticking to Bangkok Chef on Nu’uanu for Pad Thai.
My main reason for paying Spices a visit was for their ice cream. It’s not quality, much less quantity that the ice cream is known for, but the unusual flavor offerings. Flavors vary from Green Apple Curry to Durian with about six varieties offered each night. We ordered the Sampler ($7.50) which included a choice of three flavors. Picking the most interesting of the group, we were presented a long rectangular dish with three of the TINIEST scoops of ice cream I’ve ever seen in my life. Ha. And my mom was worried three scoops was over doing it. But seriously man. These were in the range of two bite scoops! Ice cream for Barbies! After recovering from scoop size shock, I started “sampling.” From left to right, the Chili Pepper – Lemongrass tasting of spicy cold cream was my least favorite. Perhaps a bare hint of sweetness or stronger lemongrass flavor would have helped. The Pandan with a lovely soft green hue carried a calm mellow vanilla flavor with that distinct Pandan essence that I cannot quite describe but know it when I taste it! (Pandan also has that smell. Just that. Oh man, I’m no good at explaining Pandan. You’ll have to buy the leave or a bottle of extract/paste. The smell itself is addictive!) The best of the trio was Peanut. Thick with tiny crumbles of toasty nuts the peanuttiness flavor was definitely there and very strong. The texture of the ice creams were inconsistent as I found a couple bits of plain frozen cream in the pandan and a chewy bit (lemongrass, I hoping?) in the Chili Pepper-Lemongrass. Though quality was a letdown, kudos to them for introducing Hawaii to more “exotic” ice cream flavors. Local is good, but a little variation never hurt!
Overall? Nearly every dish can be accounted for as “Goood, BUT…!” There was just ONE thing that ruined it. Like too much salt in the Curry and overdoing the oil with Pad Thai. If they had watched each dish a tad closer, I’m sure our meal would have been much more satisfying. Though not in a rush to return, perhaps I’ll give it a visit on a slow weekday, where hopefully in addition to attentive service and helpful waiters, the food too, will also be given deserving attention.
2671 D S. King St.
Honolulu, HI 96826