Kid Hit Menu Items: Your family experience tasting Singaporean and Vietnamese tossed in with some other Asian cuisine influences at the Spice Table will partially hinge on how everyone feels about heat. Or at least dealing with the sight of menacingly bright red sauces, even if they’re not topping safer dishes you’ve ordered for the kids. Once we figured out the Sambal chili sauce-coated fried potatoes ($6) and grilled eggplant log ($7) were a no-go for that reason, it was time for round two of chicken satay ($8), which was an excellently juicy, somewhat petite version with chunky peanut dipping sauce. Maybe you’ll have a fluke night and your kid will steal enough bites of the lightly dressed gem lettuce salad with pomelo ($7), leaving you with hardly any fresh greens for yourself. A dish of marinated yellowtail ($14) might turn into a pile of scallion slivers and chilies before you’ve had a chance to slide a thin silky slice of fish flesh down your throat. I can think of worse mealtime issues. Once the piping hot fried tumeric-laced cauliflower cools down the sweet florettes can be picked apart and nibbled. Otherwise a couple small orders of Hainanese chicken rice ($4) should do the trick for either side dish or main course needs. Or get a baguette for a buck.
Adult Perks: The Spice Table’s small plates style dining and bold flavors with a healthy mix of protein and intriguing veggie options makes it well-suited for group eating, ideally with folks you know well and can share forks and plates and chopsticks with. All the better if they’re down for whatever and you don’t have to worry about someone not having yet turned two years old yet and getting a little too interested in the peanut sauce. Or explain to them what bone marrow is. In lieu of that scenario, I gladly kept a bowl of kon loh mee — with the firm-to-the-bite thin noodles and succulent slightly smoky pork and those hot and tangy flavors mixed together — ALL to myself. A quartino of Grenache/Mourvedre/Albariño Edna Valley rose blend from the smartly edited wine and beer list followed by Palmina Dolcetto was a lovely combo for an early summer dinner.
Pros: I’m usually not a fan of outdoor seating unless it makes better sense for us, but the Spice Table’s sidewalk set-up is smartly contained with attractive box planters and other touches to create a discrete enclosure that’s still connected to the street. You can easily access the sidewalk if the need to run around takes hold. It’s open for lunch, during which banh mi are served (but the reports aren’t all glowing). The warning of “Many of our items contain shellfish and/or peanut products. Please alert your server of any allergies.” is considerate. But also somewhat contradicted by the following.
Cons: “Changes and modifications are politely declined.” Uh oh. No “may we please have the potatoes without the flaming red hot sauce?” happening here. But I guess this means the kitchen will leave peanut garnishes off if necessary? Not sure. Anyway, while not fancy per se, the sophisticated vibe inside, with its simple every-piece-matters decor, doesn’t exactly make it a great place to take all kids at night. If all else fails, stand back and watch the active wood-fired grill with the beautifully patina-d vent hood cover in the front room.
Changing Station: No
High Chairs: Yes
Parking and Access: Limited street parking in a busy area, or plenty of parking lots. If you’re tying a Spice Table meal into a Geffen Contemporary or JANM visit, then you’ve probably already parked in the surface lot at the corner of Central and 1st next to the restaurant. Or you can take the Gold Line!
Other Tidbits: As if the eating choices in Little Tokyo weren’t overwhelming enough already, here comes the Spice Table and chef/owner Bryant Ng with an impressive resume and ambitions for his Singaporean/Vietnamese restaurant. Things in the neighborhood have gotten even more interesting and complex; long ago are the days when my family’s go-to Sunday dinner place was almost always without question funky old little mom and pop operation Aoi on 1st, broken up by occasional visits to restaurants in Japanese Village Plaza. (Mostly the one on the second floor towards at the southeast corner of the mall.) Given the other more family-friendly choices in this area, I wouldn’t put Spice Table at the top of the list. I think I’ve made the case for its appropriateness as an adult restaurant, even if in our case the food and outdoor seating overall made for a successful meal, and the kids ate well and were happy. Sadly, however, things got dicey and cranky towards the end, so they might have to wait a few years before trying the house-made soft serve. Then again, there’s always Spice Table lunch.
UPDATE: Spice Table’s final night of service was on New Year’s Eve 2013, to make room for the Metro expansion plans.
114 S. Central Avenue, Little Tokyo
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.; Monday – Wednesday, 5:30 – 11 p.m.; Thursday – Saturday, 5:30 p.m. – midnight.