Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Spoon Kitchen $35 Groupon

Spoon Kitchen on Urbanspoon

2014-Dec-21 Groupon appetizer trio posted by "Domo Is Craving" on Urbanspoon
Spoon Kitchen is on a traffic-busy section of West 4th street-parking-hell. Small 50-seater restaurant with fairly good table spacing. Chairs = revenue in restaurants (and airline) but they aren't putting you in an Economy Section squeeze. Place looked tidy and clean. I was too busy with my dining partner to really have a good look at the decor.

I went with a $35 Groupon Nine-Course Thai and Malaysian Tasting Menu, and although you will read my mixed review of the menu items, overall it is a good deal. At $35 for two persons, you will leave full but not stuffed.
You will also probably feel you got a very good deal for sampling so many items: After tax and tip you'll come out close to having spent $24 for a two person dinner (assuming a 15% tip on a $70 value dinner).
Nowadays, especially in a neighborhood like West 4th, a $24 dinner for two is a better deal than you'll get during Dine Out Vancouver or Taste of Yaletown, where the prices have been inching up year after year and you get only three skimpy courses. Here, you get to try eight (8) courses. Not nine (9) despite what the Groupon says--I'll explain later.

Of course, with Groupons you can't realistically expect full portions. Even the picture on the Groupon page shows that the three appetizers aren't full portions: A few (medium-large) rings of Crispy Fried Calamari can't possibly be worth $8! If it were, it'd be appalling. The other portions of items looked like they might be slightly scaled down versions of what shows on the menu as on-average $13 mains.

Mango Salad ($5) Shredded mango salad with lime dressing, cucumber, carrots, shallots and jicama. Served with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds.
  • Nice and refreshing small salad. Somewhat sharp-sour mango slices and lime dressing really woke up the taste buds without making you cringe from the tartness. Just a little bit of crispy fried shallots for flavour and aroma was an unexpected but nice touch.
  • Colourful and flavourful salad. Highly recommended as a to-share starter to whet your appetite, but I wouldn't make this your main.
Roti Canai (full appetizer portion normally $6) Flaky layered naan bread served with coconut curry as dipping sauce.
  • I don't understand why many places need to sweeten the roti, unless they are expecting people to not use the curry. Those people are weird and shouldn't be ordering this anyway. Give 'em condensed milk for dipping instead.
  • Curry tasted very good and pretty much like what I remembered from market-stall purchased roti paratha with curry in a clear plastic bag. Sometimes you get a thick film of oil on top with this type of curry, but not here.
  • Overall, a nice appetizer. I rarely get that nostalgic longing for food from my childhood, but this was one of the items that did it for me.
Crispy Fried Calamari (full appetizer portion normally $8) Crispy fried calamari rings, served with a side of our sweet chili sauce.
  • Sharp tangy sauce, not at all spicy-hot.
  • Not oily feeling/tasting, which can be the case with some places.
  • Nicely battered, crispy as advertised, and the squid doesn't slide out of its battered shell.
  • Overall, really nicely done, but unfortunately, calamari is calamari in the end, it's also "nothing special". Unless you keep running into badly done small-ring soggy oily-tasting calamari and are dying for a properly done one.
Chicken Satay Skewers ($1.50 x2 skewers) Chicken marinated in exotic herbs with coconut milk and spices, served with homemade peanut sauce.
  • Chicken felt a bit too firm.
  • Taste was really good here, very reminiscent of what I had growing up in Singapore. Even the taste of the meat on the skewer (slightly sweet and some grill burns) separately from the peanut sauce is good, so don't feel you need to use the sauce.
  • The peanut sauce also tasted "just like back home" in Singapore. Either that or I've been away too long and will accept any reasonably good facsimile.
Kung Pao Chicken ($13) A spicy stir-fried dish made with boneless chicken, peanuts and dried chili, soy sauce, ginger and black rice vinegar.
  • Chicken was way too firm and somewhat dry on the inside. Easy to overcook white meat/breast meat, I guess. Good sized slices easy to find.
  • Not spicy at all, unless you grab one of the sticks of chewy dried chili and munch on it. In which case there is good heat but predominantly bitterness. Unless you like bitter chili with bland heat, not recommended you do this. Their obvious presence didn't really spice up the dish in any way for me, so don't be too worried about this dish being "spicy".
  • Also had chunks of yellow and red peppers.
  • Overall okay but nothing special, even if they hadn't overcooked the chicken.
Caramelized Ginger Black Cod (fillets only for Groupon valued at $14; normally $20) Black cod topped with black sweet soy sauce. Enriched with caramelized ginger, garlic, shallots, and rice wine.
  • Tasty sauce plus tender fish makes this a winner. I'm not gaga over this only because I'm not terribly excited by fish.
  • The Groupon menu gives you fillets, but the regular menu at $20 is apparently a whole fish.
House Green Beans ($12) Crunchy green beans stir-fried with shrimp and tomatoes.
  • It's some kind of shrimp paste so darkly brown you won't be able to make out any shrimp.
  • There's a sweetness to this dish that really helps kick it up a notch. I'm not a big fan of green beans, but the flavouring here really made this dish tasty and recommended.
Jasmine Rice ($1.50 x2 bowls)
  • Rice counts as one dish? Really? FAIL.
  • It does help to make the whole dinner filling, however. If you are a lighter eater, go really easy on this and take the rest home.
Black-Rice Pudding ($3 x2 bowls)
  • Not on the online or takeout menu but rated at $6 on the Groupon menu for two bowls.
  • Some versions of this in other places are more purple in colour from the purple rice.
  • Basically a sweet black rice soup with a generous swirl of coconut milk.
  • Simple and delicious dessert.
The menu is rated at $72 by Groupon before tax and tip, but if you rate the small portioned appetizers (Roti canai and Calamari) at a third of their normal value, AND if we assume the mains were full-portioned, the total is closer to $60.67. Let's round this to $60 for convenience. After 5% tax and 15% tip that is $72, or $36 per person. Possibly a bit pricey, but not terribly so. The Groupon works out to about $24 per person, meaning a 33% discount.

Maybe they were all on autopilot because of Groupons at every table, but service was a bit lacking. One look at my Groupon and the server just took it and walked away. I guess he knew exactly what to do and from experience really didn't see the point of trying to upsell us anything from the menu. Didn't even ask if we wanted drinks other than water. I'm going to excuse it this time because of Groupon mania: I think pretty much everyone at dinner was using a Groupon.

Reservations are not allowed for their lunch service, but you can use your Groupon at that time if you want.

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