The Spices Of Southeast Asia

Jo McGarry
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Friday - July 23, 2005
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Spices chef/owner Somphong
“Pony” Norindr specializes in
home-style Laotian dishes

Usually I give new restaurants some breathing space before writing about them. Rare is the restaurant that is able to open for dinner and immediately cope with the inevitable kinks.

So, I wait a few weeks before visiting and then try to go back several times before writing.

I didn’t give the guys at Spices any such consideration.

I was there the day after they opened and am so impressed with their food and enthusiasm that I feel confident they’ll be able to cope with almost anything — even a rush of MidWeek readers.

After several visits I’m more than happy to report Honolulu has a new restaurant that has captured the flavors of Southeast Asia blended beautifully with the hospitality of Hawaii.

At the Moiliili end of South King Street (previously the Thai restaurant Montien), Spices is visually appealing from the moment you step through the door. Colors of turmeric, paprika and saffron warm the walls and rural photographs of life in Southeast Asia (taken by coowner Ty Dang) add vibrant blues and greens. The owners are an interesting group, comprising Vietnamese-born Tyronne Dang, Somphong “Pony” Norindr, a Laotianborn architect who serves as the restaurant’s head chef and menu stylist, and Roger Mies, whose background in restaurant management completes the trio. The menu showcases a cultural blend of dishes from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos and results in offerings that provide lots of color, flavor and yes, spice.

The savvy diner will immediately note some departures from what appears at first glance to be a Thai menu.

Pony’s Mushroom Laap, for example, is a “home-style” Laotian dish. The Laap is a simple dish of grilled and marinated mushrooms. A lime-juice marinade with a heavy dose of shallots, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves penetrates the mushrooms and creates a seviche-like effect on the meats and vegetables. The result? Tender meats and crunchy, flavorpacked mushrooms with a wonderfully fragrant aftertaste of citrus. If you’re a vegetarian you’ll love this — meat eaters should really enjoy the meat Laap served over rice.

The Pad Thai is the best I’ve ever had and the Chicken Wings ($9.45), packed with ground chicken and vegetables, are about as big and juicy as any you’ll find. Laotian Sausage — ground pork, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves shallots and dill — ($8.45) comes with a spicy chili sauce and cucumber relish.

Traditional Tom Yum is served with chicken or tofu, shrimp or veggies and seafood ($5.25) and can be spiced as hot as you like it.

Bottom line? This restaurant is off to a flying start and has all the right ingredients for a long and successful run. The service is incredibly friendly, so much so that you don’t mind at all if you have to wait. You can BYOB (take chilled Riesling or cold beer), there’s parking on the street and behind the restaurant (although it’s all a bit luck of the draw), and the food is just wonderful.

If you’ve been looking for somewhere to satisfy your spicy cravings but are bored with the usual Chinatown offerings, then head to Spices.

After a couple of months in business they should be just about ready for the rush.

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