You might think a restaurant with so many influences would be an eclectic place, visually. But this one has chosen straightforward white tablecloths and white paper with pale sunset colors on the walls that take a back seat to the food.
The best way to order here is to bring many people, or stick to the prix fixe specials if you're alone or in a twosome. Since many of the dishes are really family-style in size, the specials offer the best value with a reasonable amount of food. Dinners for two include the Island Feast for $15.95 or the Sunset Special for $18.95. The lunch specials range from $5.95 to $7.95.
That said, I ordered a la carte both visits, ending up with lots of doggie bags and no room for dessert (so that others may learn from my mistakes).
A good appetizer to start with is the roti prata Indian flat bread ($2.75) with a curry dipping sauce. The curry was delicious, moderately spicy, and there was plenty of it. I liked the poh piah spring rolls just as much. The two light, soft-sided spring rolls with jicama and a plum sauce for dipping were made from fresh ingredients and rolled with care.
By comparison, the tom yam soup (bowl, $2.55) was rather ordinary. It's a quiet lemongrass-flavored seafood soup with mussels, shrimp, mushrooms, and scallions, but there was nothing distinctive about the broth (other than the lemon grass) and the shrimp bordered on squishy.
Instead, I recommend the islander salad ($6.95), dressed with mango, bell peppers, cucumbers, peanuts and a sweet vinaigrette. I liked this perky and complementary combination.
We noticed the pineapple fried rice ($8.95) is popular. There were many rice-filled, scooped-out pineapple halves on tables around us. This dish features such usual fried rice ingredients as egg and scallions, but also shrimp, pineapple, and minty chicken. Again, the shrimp were a little on the soft side, but the mint, chicken, and pineapple helped liven up the dish.
The restaurant's extensive menu is divided by main dish ingredients -- it'd be fun to see it broken down by the cuisines that influence each dish -- with sections for poultry, pork, beef and lamb, and seafood (the largest variety). The menu also lists the vegetarian choices, making their selection easier than hunting through the full menu.
We sampled from several of the categories, and though none of the dishes we tasted at Spice Islands were bad, some just weren't very exciting. Ayam basil (chicken sauteed with basil and veggies) tasted, naturally, of basil, but not much else. The asparagus chicken ($8.95) was more complex and balanced, in a light soy sauce. More tender tips than stalks would be nice, but the dish had great flavor.
Mango prawns ($11.95) served up in a mango shell featured good, sizeable prawns with fresh mango, but the sauce was disappointingly like catsup. We tempered our sadness with Fetzer Valley Oaks, a very light chardonnay ($4.95) that goes well with seafood.
The dish I probably enjoyed most (right up there with the island salad and spring rolls) at Spice Islands was green curry pork in a creamy coconut broth, with string beans, tomatoes, and tofu. ($7.95) I ordered medium-hot seasoning, allowing me to enjoy some spiciness without the second-degree burns. It had plenty of tender pork. You can choose from several rices to accompany: brown, steamed white, chicken-broth, or coconut ($1.50).
With efficient and pleasant service, we were never kept waiting long for anything, and there were no mix-ups in order or billing. It makes a meal more relaxing to be so well taken care of.
The Spice Islands offers wine and beer, as well as unusual fruit juices such as watermelon ($3.55, and tasting like they'd just wrung out a melon for me, personally). Reservations are probably a good idea during typical lunch and dinner hours (noon to 1 p.m., and 7 to 9 p.m.) as the restaurant is popular.
Spicy enough for ya? Or is the cafe not quite your style? Join the conversation at TownSquare by going to www.PaloAltoOnline.com.
The Spice Islands Cafe
210 Hope St. (corner of Villa St.), Mountain View
Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
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