This year, MARKET by Jean-Georges—celebrated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s first Canadian restaurant inside the Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver (1128 West Georgia Street)—celebrates its fifth anniversary. In New York, Vongerichten’s Spice Market is marking its 10th year. To honour this occasion, MARKET and Spice Market have joined forces to bring a taste of the unique New York restaurant to Vancouver.
Spice Market is inspired by the street food that Vongerichten experienced during his travels in Southeast Asia. Flavours are reminiscent of regional cuisines in Vietnam and Thailand, and signature dishes include tuna with tempura pearls and lemon-Szechuan emulsion, spiced chicken samosas with cilantro yogurt, and crispy pork belly with lobster and shrimp sauce.
This week, Spice Market executive chef Anthony Ricco—who has been with the restaurant for nine years—arrived at MARKET. Ricco and MARKET chef de cuisine Montgomery Lau have created a special menu that combines flavours and dishes from Spice Market with produce from the West Coast.
Starting today (April 4) until April 18, MARKET will offer a Spice Market lunch prix fixe menu for $29, a five-course Spice Market tasting menu for $68, and Spice Market dishes available on its à la carte lunch and dinner menus (starting at $12).
At a media preview on April 3, I had the chance to meet both chefs and try the tasting menu. The five courses actually include 10 dishes, with pairs of dishes featuring complementary flavours served together. To enhance the Spice Market menus, the bar at MARKET has added several tropical cocktails to their menu. The Peach Saketini—made with vodka, plum sake, white peach, lime, and plum—was sweet, fragrant, and fun, but it was the Thai Smash—a muddle of vodka, Thai basil, grapefruit, and lime served on the rocks—that I enjoyed most. The cocktail was refreshing and minty and paired well with the crispy papadum and chili sauce, which replaces the usual complimentary bread basket.
The first course and pairing of flavours on MARKET’s menu is also currently offered on Spice Market’s 10-year-anniversary prix fixe menu. Cubes of Yellowfin tuna are sprinkled with crackly tempura bits and dollops of lemon-Szechuan vinaigrette. Ricco and Lau have paired this with a small bowl of shrimp dumplings—similar to Chinese wontons—in an earthy lobster and shitake mushroom sauce.
The spice factor increases with the next course. Mongolian lamb satay skewers dripping in a sweet-soy glaze are served alongside Spice Market’s signature spiced chicken samosas, which come with a cooling cilantro yogurt dipping sauce. This course was my favourite among the five. The lamb skewers were tender and seasoned well, and the samosas had just the right amount of crunch. The heat level of the spiced-chicken filling was quite mild. (For chili-phobes, there was nothing on this menu that was very “spicy” despite Spice Market’s name.)
The third course is reminiscent of homestyle cooking. A bowl of roasted salmon and Thai eggplant in a green-curry broth is served alongside a mix of vegetables—lotus root, asparagus, and lily bulb. Asian cuisine is almost always about balance. A dish that is fiery, rich, or fried is often followed by something a bit simpler, cooling, and understated. Lau and Ricco have kept this in mind for their tasting menu.
No Asian or Asian-inspired meal is complete without rice or noodles. The fourth course features ginger-fried rice topped with a crispy fried egg. Its companion dish is seemingly simple: grilled striploin and baby bok choy. The sauce—garlic, cilantro, and sesame—that accompanies it, however, gives the steak the Spice Market touch
It’s not often diners get two desserts at the end of a meal. To finish the meal, diners receive a clever interpretation of sweet Vietnamese coffee in the form of a tart with a scoop of condensed milk ice-cream. This is a cold tart, and the bitterness of the coffee comes across strongly but balanced by the ice-cream. Served alongside is Thai Jewels, a bowl of colourful tapioca pearls, slices of fresh mango, and coconut shaved ice in a creamy coconut sauce. This dessert is served at Spice Market, and is fun to eat. Ever spoonful offers a different combination of tropical fruit flavours. By the end of the meal, diners might feel transported to a destination in Southeast Asia—or at the very least, New York.