My sources inside the college administration recently provided me with some potentially controversial, yet delicious, news. The grand poobahs of Williams are attempting to address persistent complaints regarding a lack of diversity in our institution’s student body by methodically encouraging a diversity of cuisine options on Spring Street. This way, rather than the tedious process of actually making new friends from other countries, we can instead eat an Americanized version of their native cuisine. The latest instance of this trend is the long-awaited opening of Spice Root. Located at the top of the street, the restaurant offers a plethora of Indian fare.
As I sat down at my table and attempted to open my menu, the first thing I noticed was the uncomfortable ambience. While the lighting was warm, I found the surfaces and colors of the furniture to be hard and sharp. The menu merits separate mention; the offerings are printed on a piece of metal of normal size, which is bound inside a plastic portfolio. While this presentation immediately suggests itself as clever and even artistic in a way, I found it to be a case in which function was subordinated to form. The metal menu was unwieldy, and a normal menu would have been much easier to read through.
This problem was symptomatic of the dÃ©cor as a whole, which appeared to have been designed with pseudo-artsy trendiness rather than the comfort of its patrons as its primary objective.
I eventually was able to surpass my menu hang-ups sufficiently enough to order. I started with rasam, a soup, and vegetable samosas, or turnovers. I am familiar with rasam from meals at the home of an Indian friend of mine, and not surprisingly the Spice Root version did not hold up in comparison to the homemade variety. This may be an indication of why the Indian students I talked to gave Spice Root lukewarm reviews; it could never hope to outshine home- cooking.
This is not to say, however, that the rasam was not tasty, because it was. It was mildly spicy and not too thick or thin. It went well with the samosas, which were filled with spiced potatoes. I ate them with a light spread of mango chutney on top, which was sweet and moist in contrast to the drier, oilier samosas themselves. At $3 for the soup and $3.50 for two samosas, the moderately apportioned appetizers were reasonably priced.
Â One of Spice Root’s strengths is the quick service. There was minimal waiting between placing the order and the presentation of the appetizers, and the wait for the entrÃ©es was equally inoffensive. The two main dishes I sampled were the tikka masala, which I ordered with chicken, and the spinach tikka with lamb, accompanied by rice and naan, an Indian bread.
The differences between these two dishes belied their similar names. The tikka masala was served in a creamy tomato sauce almost like a cream of tomato soup. The chicken was well cooked and not too dry, and the dish as a whole was a good choice, providing of course that you like cream of tomato soup.
The spinach tikka was irresistible. The boneless pieces of lamb were juicy and seemed to fall apart at the mere hint of a bite, and the spinach gravy was savory and filled with pieces of spinach and other vegetables. I mixed each dish with rice and ate them with pieces of naan.
However, midway through the meal I ran out of naan and was compelled to request another order. I thought that since the prices were already in the low teens for most entrÃ©es, charging for each order of bread was an unnecessarily tight-fisted decision.
I had a nice time at Spice Root, as the food did not disappoint and the service was helpful and prompt. While the ambience didn’t impress me, ultimately that judgment is a matter of taste, and in any case delicious food goes a long way towards alleviating any shortcomings found in the restaurant environment.
At seven dollars for a lunch special, prices are about average for Spring Street, and though they are a bit expensive for a student, they are not exorbitant. The dinner pricing is low enough not to discourage students completely, but high enough to persuade those in search of an affordable night out to stick with the restaurant’s Thai nextdoor neighbors.
At any rate, Spice Root is a welcome addition to Spring Street’s growing selection of exotic eateries, and will do its part to expose Williams students to the diversity that may or may not exist all around them.