Jubilation in Columbia City

By Lady Bird December 31, 2009

Lest readers think my M.O. is to go to restaurants on opening night and slag on them for failing to live up to my inflated expectations, take note: I waited a full week to go to the Spice Room, the new, hotly-anticipated Thai restaurant in Columbia City.

And guess what? I loved it.

I'm going to hold off on a full review (because I think there are a half-dozen things on the menu I really need to go back and sample—you know, for science), but here's what I will say: The service was prompt, the waiters were friendly, and the food was some of the best in the neighborhood.

Spice Room has ambition. The dishes aren't as baroque as, say, Wild Ginger's, but they are dressed-up versions of Thai classics. An entree described only as "red curry" ($10-$12) was far more elegant than its name implied, ditching the usual runny coconut-milk-and-curry-paste combo for a complex mix of spices, al dente vegetables, and just enough coconut milk to bind it all together. The  rice noodles and rare beef in spicy broth was tangy, rich, fiery, and studded with just-cooked shreds of rare beef—next to pho, the perfect antidote to the cold night outside. Although the filling for the "crab wontons" was a little mayonnaise- and cream cheese-heavy for my blood, and the teacup-size cucumber salad was a bit of an upsell at $3, those were minor blemishes on what was otherwise an extraordinary meal.

Perhaps even more important than the food: The hostess was prompt and friendly, the water glasses never went unfilled, the courses were timed appropriately, and the waiter didn't act like she was doing us a favor by deigning to serve us. It was, in other words, a mirror image of my visit to Wabi-Sabi, which still ranks as one of the most comically awful dining experiences of my life.

People like neighborhood restaurants—when they make an effort to serve the needs of the neighborhood. They'll even forgive an off night now and then. What they won't do is go back to a restaurant that treats its customers badly, fails to compensate for mistakes, charges for entrees that arrive late and off-temperature, or fails to do basic things like provide water and clear tables.

Spice Room should do well in Columbia City—not just because it serves stellar food, but because its owners seem to realize that they're joining the neighborhood, not doing us a favor.

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