Aug 2011

Lunch at The Spice Table – Los Angeles (Downtown)

The Spice Table - Downtown

A glowing review of The Spice Table on Midtown Lunch brought my friend Bill and me to Little Tokyo for a weekday meetup. Vietnamese sandwiches are my passion, and Zach promised “as perfect a banh mi as you would expect to find in, say, Westminster.” High praise from the high priest of midday grubbing, I’d say.

The Spice Table - Downtown

The Spice Table, which opened for business this past March and began serving lunch soon after, is owned by Chef Bryant Ng and his wife Kim. Chef Ng most notably served as the opening chef of Pizzeria Mozza.

The lunchtime menu features Southeast Asian-inspired sandwiches served in a casual atmosphere, while dinner is a full-service affair showcasing the traditional cuisines of Singapore and Vietnam.

The Spice Table - Downtown

After ordering and paying for our food at the counter, Bill and I grabbed a table in the main dining room and sipped our beverages while we waited. He indulged in a glass of red wine ($16), while I chose a bubbly mug of Prosecco ($13). Both pours were stingy as hell, much to our dismay.

The Spice Table - Downtown

All of the food arrived simultaneously, wrapped and packaged to be consumed off the premises even though we were dining in. Excess waste makes my inner environmentalist cringe.

To start, we dug into the curry fried chicken wings ($7). The breading, with its slight but effective curry essence, was perfectly grease-less and additively crunchy, while the meat was quite moist. These wings turned out to be the best dish we tried this afternoon.

The Spice Table - Downtown

Our second side dish was a slaw ($3) with Napa cabbage, carrots, crushed peanuts, scallions, mint, fried shallots, and a pepper-lime dressing. While the ingredients listed on the menu sounded absolutely enticing, what we received was a slight notch above the stuff served at K.F.C. Needless to say, the slaw was utterly forgettable and a complete waste of space.

The Spice Table - Downtown

Our two sandwiches fared better than the slaw, but couldn’t quite reach the heights of the chicken wings. My “cold cut” sandwich ($8) was stuffed with Vietnamese ham, paté, headcheese, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeños, in between a house-made baguette with garlic mayonnaise.

When it comes to banh mi, I’m not a stickler for authenticity or against paying steeper prices for higher quality ingredients. What I’m looking for is that magical burst of flavor that results from combining savory meats with a slick fat, pickled vegetables, chilies, and a crusty baguette. The components can change in any number of innovative or traditional ways; so as long as the pow is present, it’s a success in my book.

As much as I wanted to love the cold cut sandwich this afternoon, it lacked everything that I adore about banh mi. The flavors were flat, the filling was skimpy, and the bread was neither here nor there.

The Spice Table - Downtown

Bill came to a similar conclusion about his fried catfish sandwich ($9) with sambal, pickled curried cucumbers, garlic mayonnaise, lime, and lettuce. Aside from the well portioned and perfectly fried catfish, nothing else in between the buns was worth mentioning. At eight and nine dollars a pop, we were expecting sandwiches with a lot more flare than what we received.

With the exception of the curried chicken wings, everything that we sampled this afternoon failed to meet our expectations. Spending $50 on a mediocre lunch is a travesty.

The Spice Table
114 S. Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: 213-620-1840

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27 thoughts on “Lunch at The Spice Table – Los Angeles (Downtown)

  1. Eeek! Thanks for sharing that experience and warning us — my two dinners there were mixed (or as I call it, a menu landmine…) and yeah, a bit pricey for what it is.

  2. Interesting write-up… and so disappointing to hear. I’m really curious as to why they packaged everything to-go even though you were dining in.

  3. I was just about to go try it the banh mi this week too, darn — I mean, I don’t mind spending extra for better quality ingredients, etc. but when it bombs compared to the $1.50 version, that makes me ba chang lua. My two dinners there were just meh, too. Flavors seemed … muted?

  4. I love how you credit me and me alone with sending you to this shitty lunch! lol Also it’s worth noting that my “glowing review” did not include ordering $29 worth of wine.

    “Travesty” aside I wonder if they’ve cut back on the fillings for the cold cut banh mi since they first opened. Yours definitely looks sparse compared to the one I had:

  5. oh, banh mi woes. I’ll go and try it — maybe it’s improved! I enjoyed a big, fun dinner way back in March. I want to know what you think of ink.sack’s banh mi, cc.

  6. i found dinner to be a world of difference. order correctly (pigs tail, cauliflower, tripe satay, laksa & bone marrow), and i think you’ll have a very good time.

  7. Despite the fact that the other items were disappointing, the curry fried chicken wings are enough for me to add this to my list of place I MUST go to on my upcoming L.A. trip.

    Also, I just wanted to mention that as a first time reader of your blog, I really admire your pictures. Further proof that my iPhone pics just aren’t cutting it anymore.

  8. Thanks for the review was curious about the lunch menu you there.

    Talking about fish sandwiches have you tried the turmeric fish sandwich at Viet Noodle bar in Atwater? I’d recommend that if you want to try a fish sandwich. ^_^

  9. oy. ouchies. man i hate a bad banh mi. thanks for saving me the extra calories and carb consumption. if i do check them out, it will be for dinner. maybe.

  10. My pork meatball banh mi was good during my visit, and I’d still be interested in trying more of the Spice Table’s sandwiches eventually.

    Zach makes a good point about calling it a $50 lunch when you ordered $29 of wine. If you didn’t like the sandwich, that’s another issue, and you clearly didn’t. Still, if you subtract the wine, is the remainder really a travesty? Pretty extreme.

  11. Wow. I don’t know what to make of your review. I’ve had everything on the lunch menu over a dozen trips. It’s far and away my favorite lunch in Little Tokyo. You didn’t mention that the pate and head cheese is housemade and makes the cold cut sandwich actually taste like pate.

    To say that the bread was neither “here nor there” is just weird. I understand that some people prefer baguettes to be a little crustier or chewier. But considering all the subpar baguettes in LA, places that make real baguettes that are like the ones you’d find in Paris should be given credit. The Spice Table baguettes are very good, with a nice crust that is not too hard for a sandwich and a wonderful light flavor.

    Did you try the housemade shrimp chips? Or note that they have 4 oz. pours of craft beers – perfect for a taste when you’re going back to the office in 30 minutes? Or that you always get your food within 5 minutes of ordering? Or the beautiful space?

    I agree that their banh mi are not quite the same as one you’d get in Little Saigon. But I think it is an elevated version of the real thing, rather than the sui generis, unauthentic “banh mi” you get at Mendocino Farms.

  12. Pingback: Red Sauce Means Stop! at the Spice Table, Little Tokyo |
  13. dang, $29 on two stingy drinks at lunch is definitely a travesty. Would you say that those two highbrow beverages paired well with your coleslaw, chicken wings and two sammies?

  14. totally agree went there for lunch and was so disappointed. food was whatevs and way too expensive for lunch! why does everyone rave about this joint?

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