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Spices, Chef Jessie Yan's Pan-Asian with Sushi in Cleveland Park


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I went to Spices last night for the second time and it was just as loud as the first time. They could definitely use some acoustic tiles or something to dampen the noise. My wife could only hear me across the table when I shouted.

As to the food, after our first visit where we found the food to be lackluster we didn't plan on returning despite it being reasonably priced (most entrees $9-12) and so convenient.

However, our second visit was the result of the closing of Spices's upscale sister a few doors down. I had heard and its true that some of Yanyu's best dishes are available now at Spices. I wanted to let you all know that the Big Duck (peking-style) is available and just as good at Spices.

I got the half-duck ($15, whole duck is $30) which is presented to each diner before it is carved. The staff even goes to the trouble of making all of the pancakes for you with scallions and cucumber as well as the meat. It is downright delicious and wonderful meal for one (1/2 duck= 5 pancakes).

The Big Duck and the other Yanyu holdovers are listed as Jessie Yan's specialties on a separate menu on each table. Other items are two different sea basses, a crab wonton, garlic shrimp (which sounded great), and one or two others I can't remember.

So despite the noise, I'd recommend Spices - if only for the specials menu.

What are others thoughts on Spices? Specials menu and regular menu?

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Spices is good for what it is...inexpensive pan asian food good for getting together with friends or going before/after a movie etc. I find their sushi to be decent...they don't tone down dishes for the American palette (if they say it's hot and spicey, it will have a nice kick!). The ginger salad is very tasty.

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I think spices is wonderful. I love their soft shell crab dishes the best. And bilrus, you are right, that ginger salad is to die for. My man and I got there quite often, especially when we are stuck for a place to go out to eat at the spur of the moment and we don't want to break the bank.

Speaking of Yanu, I saw on my way to work this morning that there is construction going on there. What is going in that joint anyway?

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IMHO, when the ginger salad is the dish that gets far and away the most mention -- and I agree that it is tasty -- the rest of the menu just cannot be that great.

And that is what I thought when I lived a block away from Spices and visited often. I thought the aforementioned salad was yummy, the sushi was serviceable but not great, and the rest of the menu was just OK. In terms of quality to price ratio, I gave it high marks--but driven by a low denominator and not a particularly stellar numerator.

Perhaps the addition of some "legacy Yanyu" dishes to the menu has kicked things up a notch or two; I hope so.

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Speaking of Yanu, I saw on my way to work this morning that there is construction going on there.  What is going in that joint anyway?

The old Yanyu space is supposed to be an italian place called Dino's if I remember correctly from Tom Siestsma's weekly dish a while back. I think he said it is supposed to open in June. That might be possible - they were painting the walls over the weekend in the main dining room.

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Not that my meal on Friday night really deserves to bump Spices back up, but anyway. We went before the movie in search of a low-key, budget place. I had been to Spices last month, and had perfectly servicable green curry-- nothing, of course, on the level of Thai Square, but OK. (I think this is one of the legacy Yanyu dishes, which is what prompted me to try the curry there the first time.) However, Friday night the green curry was really mediocre. Someone in the kitchen must have dumped a ton of spice into the curry, which set my mouth on fire and masked any other flavor the curry might have had. I thought about sending it back, but we were trying to catch the movie, and it wasn't worth it. The ginger salad, however, was great as usual. I should just stick to that.

Also, they really like to pack them in there, especially in the back. It's always amusing to overhear your neighbor's conversations, and be able to direct the food runners ("edamae-- the table next to us ordered them"). But the place really felt like a zoo.

We should've gone with Plan B (movie first, then try to get to Palena Cafe).

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That is funny; I was there Friday night as well. I also always get the ginger salad, which is still very good. We ordered mostly sushi, and it was all quite good for the price. I found it decent for the money, which is not as easy to find in DC these days. It was busy, but we got in before the crunch. Despite the crowd, the service was good. I wouldn't mind if they opened a Spices in Silver Spring.

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DC, I called out to you as you walked by my table but it was so loud that I am not surprsied you didn't hear me.

The major bonus of the evening was walking in at 8:30 and getting a table for two without a wait.

The food was, well, fine. It would be better if Palena wasn't a block away. I had the Tom Yum soup which was huge and a little oily on top. I like the Sala Thai version better. My friend had some random Malaysian/Indian egg noodle dish. He said it wasn't anything like what he had in India or Malaysia but it was still pretty good. I'm not going to rush back but it worked for what we were in the mood for and our pricepoint.

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I have to say, I really like Spices. I'm a bit of a sushi addict, so I stick to that menu in general, meaning I am not able to comment on the other food items. But for solid, fresh sushi, it's pretty darn good. And there's a good variety too. I'm also addicted to the Wafu dressing (salad itself could be improved a bit but the dressing is wonderful).

Delivery is a plus, too.

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Sundays are Sushi Sundays in my apartment. We've been trying various places, and tonight was Spices. We had it delivered. I don't know if it was because it was delivery, but the rice was atrocious and mushy. The bag didn't seem warm, so I don't think there was additional heat. It couldn't have been from sitting too long since grocery store sushi doesn't appear to have the same issue either. The soft shell crab roll had mayonnaise and lettuce inside; it tasted almost exactly like a McChicken sandwich. It is time to just stick to Kotobuki.

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We enjoyed the dinner. Actually me, Escoffier, cucas87, Scott and synaesthesia gathered at Dino to have a short drinking time before the meal. Somehow Daniel_K got in later coincidentally. When we entered Spices Legant and rkduggins were there. We ordered fried dumplings, 3 ducks, duck beef with tangerine peels, string beans, stir-fried Tofu and suicide curry (?). Even though I don't prefer curry with coconut milk, it was quite good and fiery. I really like the beef. It was very crispy and seasoned well. The dumpling was closed to Japanese gyoza style I assumed. It was tasty. I am not a big fan of duck but the duck dish was very good, too. The restaurant was crowded at the time, so we had to wait a bit for main dishes after dumplings and curry dish. Otherwise, service was pretty good and food was excellent. We couldn't finish the duck meat so Legant and StephenB carried out. It was the first time for rkduggins to join DR event. We were glad to see her there. You should have been with us. :)

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My family was in town this week. Coming to DC is always a challenge for the my parents because they don't dine out too often at home, and when they visit me (almost exclusively during the week of Thanksgiving) that's pretty much all we do. So its usually up to me to find an affordable dining option in a non-intimidating environment. My sister is an adventurous eater, however, and she and I wanted sushi, but we couldn't mention the s-word to our parents. I suggested Spices since I knew that they could get more traditional Asian fare there.

I'm so glad we went there! Not only was the wait staff attentive, but the menu was accessible and recognizable to my parents. In addition to dumplings and edamame (a first for my father), my sis and I had sushi, my +1 had Chinese fried rice, my dad had Thai fried rice, and my mom had shrimp tempura. For my parents, this was the first time they had eaten their respective dishes. And they both enjoyed their meals! Although I think my dad was regretting that he didn't order the Peking duck after he saw it go by on a platter.

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Although I think my dad was regretting that he didn't order the Peking duck after he saw it go by on a platter.
He should have gotten the duck. I was lucky on friday to convince friends to take me there for lunch on my birthday and was able to thoroughly enjoy a half big duck. Hmm hmm good as always. We also had some sushi which was pretty good (yellow tail roll and tuna and avocado rolls). My friend liked her tofu with mixed veggies too.
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I agree, but Banana Leaves is further elevated thanks to it's delivery option. There are basically no other decent (eadible) options for Cleveland Park residents, so I'm glad I can get my fix of grilled chicken noodle soup without having to unglue myself from the couch
Spices delivers. Boy, do I know that well...
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The Mee Goreng was fairly tasty on saturday, although it did suffer from a certain gloppiness.

Leftover mee goreng, topped with a fried egg and slathered with chili-garlic paste on the other hand, made for an excellent Sunday breakfast, with a big cup of coffee and some English footy on the telly.

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I think Spices is an underrated and under-talked-about DC restaurant. Went there with the wife last night, about the 4th time I've been in the past year. One of the best values in the DC area IMHO.

Last night we shared:

  • Ginger salad (with cabbage, peanuts and crispy shallots)
  • 1/2 Big Duck (as good as always, best Peking Duck I've had in the DC area)
  • Several sushi items, including the Dragon Roll (avocado on top of spicy crunchy tuna) and Nigiri (toro, salmon toro, kanpachi, madai)

I had a pretty good lemonade, the wife a decent glass of rose, dinner totaled $75 before tax/tip.

Our complaints were minor and service-related: the plates that arrived with our sushi were too warm for sushi, and the Big Duck arrived before we had finished eating our sushi.

On previous trips just about all dishes I or my companions have eaten were good or better. I love the Laksa, but I haven't had Laksa anywhere else to compare it to.

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First ever visit to Spices this past Saturday. We went with a couple that live in the area and it is their "go to" neighborhood joint. Since this was my first visit, I can't say if they've done anything to improve the noise, but we were seated inside the small room in back that is separated by glass. Noise was not much of a problem for us. The couple we were with mentioned it was much quieter in the area where we sat then it had been when they sit in the main dining room. (It appears all of the 2-tops are in the main dining room or right by the front doors.)

Onto the food. I thought it was pretty good, and actually really good if you take into consideration the value as compared to the rest of the neighborhood. They have a special fixed price menu. For $25 each, a couple can order 2 apps, 2 entrees, 1 noodle or rice dish, 1 vegetable and 2 desserts (ice cream). Because there were four of us we tried pretty much all the dishes available on the dinner special menu. Nothing was bad, or even meh...it was all good with a couple of very goods thrown in. The Peking duck, was better than most in the area with the exception of Peking Gourmet which is the standard by which I measure all other Peking duck. For the value, I think this is a place worth further consideration. I plan to go back to explore the regular menu.

FWIW - they are happy to pack up the bones from the duck for anyone who wants to make stock.

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I'd like to know of a good source for Peking Duck, too. Every once in awhile, I hear "Duck Chang's in Annandale," (which is owned by Peter Chang (no, not *that* Peter Chang), who also owns "Peking Duck" linked to by Bart below in this post) but the last time I went to Duck Chang's (years ago), I don't remember being that impressed, as it was somewhat dingy and decrepit (which is perfectly fine if the duck is in order) - I do not know of a single great Peking Duck in the DC area right now, and in fact, if forced, I would head back to Peking Gourmet Inn, based on my current knowledge.
 
Yanyu, in the old Dino space, used to have good Peking Duck, but it was very expensive, you didn't get an entire duck (or even half of one), and it was pre-prepared if I recall. Called "Big Duck" on the menu - with prices for half-orders and full-orders (which I always hoped were half-ducks and full-ducks), it was tasty, but (and this is the first time, and hopefully the last time, I will ever use this term in my life) in the words of another restaurant writer, it was also a bit "twee."

So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm asking for help.  :)

Spices serves the old Yanyu Big Duck for $34. Last time I had it -- maybe last winter? - it was very good.

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Indeed, as a regular customer, I'd suggest that the only thing that Spices serves that really stands out these days is the Peking Duck.  Everything else is kind of meh (or is that "meiwah"), though I do have a soft spot for the dragon rolls, ginger salad and even the often-unfortunate scallion pancakes.

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The big duck is indeed good with a great hoisin sauce.  You can also get it as a half a duck ($17) which is an ample one person serving.  Another hold over from the more upscale Yanyu is the honey sea bass which I had at Yanyu and it was great. Never had it at Spices but my guess is it is the same quality dish.  Recently, I had the shaky beef which was rather tasty too.

Also I just saw Don's comment in the Peking Duck thread - the Spice Big Duck is a full serving off of a whole/half duck. They still bring it out to you for show and carve it in the dining room.  So no skimping at all and they usually ask if you want to take the bones home for duck soup.  I think it is a pretty good value.

Also, to the question of cucumbers - they do give them to you but it is in addition to scallions.  You could easily pull off the cucumers. I kind of like the added crunch, but I can see why others would like the more traditional accoutrement only.

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Whenever I've ordered the Big Duck at Spices, it's always been carved in the kitchen and brought to the table in the form of a tray of pancakes already topped with the duck.  The duck meat is tasty, but I don't find the skin to be as crispy as it would be if carved and served separately from the meat.  

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Yes, I have had the half duck several times as I used to work up near Van Ness St.  It is pretty good and sort of satisfies the duck craving.  If all else fails (meaning no better contender for duck is identified), I can come here.

I have not once thought of trying the Big Duck (or Peking Duck) at Spices - I didn't even know they had it - but you guys are doing a good job of convincing me to give it a try.

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Spices does a few unusual dishes for Chinese New Year.  The Eight Treasure Fish Salad is what Malaysian Chinese call yee sang.  It is thin-sliced fish, usually raw salmon, that is served with shredded vegetables and tossed at the table by the diners to celebrate and attract good fortune in the new year.  It is sauced with a sweet, sour, and savory sauce.  We enjoyed this greatly last year.

Spices Chinese New Year specials

Yusheng, yee sang or yuu sahng or Prosperity Toss

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While the miso was mesmerizing, the sushi left me sad. After a very nice stroll in the Japanese Garden nearby, we decided to do sushi and ordered some big platter and some extra salmon and rolls. 

Miso and salad were both really good as was the fish but I wasn't impressed with it... I think it was the rice. While I am not a sushi connoisseur, I am a rice expert. It just wasn't amazing as sticky rice should be. 

In fact, that might be some of best miso in recent memory.

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On 7/29/2018 at 12:36 PM, NolaCaine said:

While the miso was mesmerizing, the sushi left me sad. After a very nice stroll in the Japanese Garden nearby, we decided to do sushi and ordered some big platter and some extra salmon and rolls. 

Miso and salad were both really good as was the fish but I wasn't impressed with it... I think it was the rice. While I am not a sushi connoisseur, I am a rice expert. It just wasn't amazing as sticky rice should be. 

In fact, that might be some of best miso in recent memory.

Sushi is ok but not the strongest items on the menu at Spices. Their salads and main dishes are usually better - still a fan of the Big (Peking) Duck. What Japanese Garden nearby are you referring to?

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The ginger salad still ranks as one of the best salads in DC.  Their fried spring rolls are also good.  They have a reoccurring tofu dish on the specials menu which is tasty  For sushi I like the eel, mackeral, and spicy scallop.  

Basically, it's a place where you figure out what dishes you like and that's what you order.  Every time.

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I'm not really sure how Spices is staying in business.  On Friday night at 8:30pm, there were a dozen customers, I counted.  Over the course of the next 45 minutes, some other customers floated in, but it was never more than 1/3 full.  I can remember back during the Tim Russert years, Spices was usually packed on a weekend night.  (Tim was a known customer, I saw him there several times, usually walking out with a large takeout order). 

Sure the decor hasn't changed much, but the food is still good. They have added new dishes, tried happy hour specials, the ginger salad is excellent as always, and I love the Vietnamese style spring rolls. Certainly DC's sushi game has passed Spices by.  And these days I would avoid the more delicate sushi offerings, the uni did not taste fresh.  But for a sushi fix, in the hood, Spices still does a solid job. 

Unfortunately, this is a restaurant that once drew people from across the city, but has now been abandoned by the neighborhood.     

 

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On 4/1/2019 at 3:52 PM, Tweaked said:

I'm not really sure how Spices is staying in business. 

First, I think they own the building and seem to do decent carryout/delivery business. Second, the food is decent and they still manage to always have some customers whether it is weekday lunch or weekend. Nevertheless, I agree the sushi is only so so. Raku, close by, is leagues better. The pan-Asian dishes are hit or miss. I like the teriyaki chicken, Big Duck, honey sea bass (although it has been a while since i ordered this one), scallion pancake, and shaky beef. Mee goreng a few months ago was rather good too. The ginger salad is ok but too much of similar flavor. The bul gogi buns on a recent trip were ok. I wasn't a fan of the bulgogi kimchi fried rice - pretty bland - the one time I had it last year. I live nearby though so I will continue to go on occassion but the dedicated single Asian cuisine in the area tends to be better - Raku for Japanese or Siam House for thai (and sadly no more Nam Viet for vietnamese. Pho 14 up the street is only ok and the non-pho soup dishes are not as good). But it is a good option for a group who can't decide. 

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Went back to Spices twice in the past two weeks - once for weekday dinner and for lunch yesterday. I think people including me to need to reassess their views. I had two rather good (worth it if in the area but not destination dining) meals. The rainbow salad was very good, the tofu "fries" are a bit addictive, and the pad see yew was the best I've had. I usually don't like pad see yew because it is way too sweet but here it was only lightly sweetened and very nice. Check it out again.

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4 hours ago, KeithA said:

Went back to Spices twice in the past two weeks - once for weekday dinner and for lunch yesterday. I think people including me to need to reassess their views. I had two rather good (worth it if in the area but not destination dining) meals. The rainbow salad was very good, the tofu "fries" are a bit addictive, and the pad see yew was the best I've had. I usually don't like pad see yew because it is way too sweet but here it was only lightly sweetened and very nice. Check it out again.

I went to Spices in September - it seemed pretty much as it always has been, and exactly like you say: "worth it if in the area, but not destination dining." The problem with my ordering was that too much food was fried; this was my own fault, and Spices certainly has healthier options.

Every single thing was good, but the big winner in this foursome was the Seabass Spring Rolls.

Seven Spices Tofu "Fries" - tossed with basil and chili (vegan, $7.50)

TofuFries.jpg

Spring Onion Cake - pan-fried with scallions, sweet and sour ginger sauce ($7.25)

SpringOnionCake.jpg

Seabass Spring Roll - filled with Chilean Sea Bass and shitake mushroom ($9.95) <--- Get this!

SeabassSpringRoll.jpg

Bulgogi Buns - steamed white buns filled with Korean bulgogi beef ($8.50)

BulgogiBuns.jpg

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