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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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