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Wednesday, November 14,2001

Spice China

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I love Spice China-the food, the ambience, the whole experience. Lest you think I am easily swayed, let me clarify: Once is enough to like the restaurant, twice is enough to want to come back, and thrice is enough to love it. Very few restaurants have that kind of allure; thank goodness for the ones that do. Each section of the menu is large enough to make up a whole restaurant's menu... but do not be intimidated. At Spice China, you can try dishes not usually found at Chinese restaurants. Of course, you can also find some of the usual ones, too.

Spice China is a sister restaurant to China Gourmet on north Broadway, and the food is just as good. If you are looking for a meal with a quieter ambience, take the time to go to Louisville for the evening, as the Boulder restaurant tends to be a bit crowded and loud. The decor of the Louisville restaurant is very attractive and they've done a good job of bringing a warm feeling to such an open space. You can also expect friendly and competent service. Be sure to start with an appetizer. The Scallion Pancakes ($4.50) and Chilled Noodle Salad ($4.25) are especially good. The noodle salad is fresh and has a good combination of textures: soft wheat noodles and crisp cucumbers. The pancakes are crispy-fried batter with green onions. Heavenly, really. The Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($6.50) are good and very messy to eat. We tried the "Spice China" Duck Rolls ($6.95), but found the flavors a bit discordant and quite greasy.

Soups are sold either by the cup or the bowl-the latter of which is big enough for several people. Order the bowl, they are so good, everyone will want some. The Hot and Sour Soup ($2.25/$5.50) is delicious and made with chicken, not the usual pork.

There is not enough space here to list enough dishes to be representative of the menu, but I can try. The Tofu and Veggies Hot Pot ($8.95) is a great combination of large pieces of fried tofu and fresh, crisp vegetables in a brown sauce. Large halves of shitake mushrooms, bright pieces of baby bok choy and other vegetables rub shoulders in this dish. Sesame Seed Tofu ($6.25 lunch/$8.25 dinner) is standard on most Boulder Chinese restaurants. This is one of the best without a doubt. The tofu is crispy, the sauce is sweet and spicy and the sesame seeds are abundant. Orange Flavored Beef ($6.95/$9.95) is also very good. Large, flat pieces of tender beef are served with a spicy orange sauce. Sesame Oil and Green Onion Chicken ($6.95/$9.95) is an interesting dish: bone-in pieces of chicken, sliced and steamed and served with a pungent sauce. The meat is very tender and made a great salad the next day, left over. Their Mu Shu-vegetarian, chicken, beef, or pork-is good. I really love hoisin sauce (a sauce of soybeans and chiles) makes the dish very tasty. But the best dish of all, which was their Crispy Garlic Sole ($7.25/$10.95), is one of the best dishes I have eaten anywhere, ever.

The fish is cooked perfectly; the sauce is garlicky, slightly spicy and just right for the fish. I have ordered this dish several different times and it has never disappointed. In fact, I would drive there just for this dish alone.

Try a pot of tea with your meal. You can have jasmine tea gratis, or just ask or go ahead and splurge and for $3.00 have a pot of the chrysanthemum tea. This is no cute little herbs-in-a-tea-bag kind of infusion. This is whole flowers floating in your pot. It looks like something from the deep sea and tastes like something straight out of your garden. Very popular in China, I hear, but don't try it if you are allergic to flowers. Now a word about desserts. For most people with palates trained in the U.S., Asian desserts are... odd, at best-lots of beans and other items we generally don't associate with sweets. This restaurant offers some American-style desserts and some Chinese treats. If you are feeling brave, try the Crepes with Red Bean Paste.

There is a whole world of dishes that I haven't tried here, but I plan to return often to work my way through the menu.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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