The Spice Club earns its place as a public fave

Go ahead and make your reservations now. And get used to it.

Yes, typically, dining-out minutiae such as whether one should make reservations is relegated to the bullet-point go-box that accompanies a review.

In this case, though, I'm talking about The Spice Club, which opened in August in Niantic. The pan-Asian has proven to be exceedingly popular - and deservedly so.

Just so's you know, Spice Club is located between the Black Sheep and Family Pizza, but set back a bit in part of a space that used to be the old Colonial Grocery Store.

It's a lovely and comfortable restaurant, with a long, narrow dining room that spaciously mixes booths and tables. The room parallels a wonderful bar and is separated by a low wall and designer glass partitions. The restaurant's color scheme is a triumph of autumnal tones, with contrasting walls of pumpkin, butter and brown as well as plenty of views of Niantic Bay.

Spice Club has familial ownership and culinary roots with the very fine Sawatdee Thai restaurant in Groton, but the menu includes Japanese choices and an expansive and creative sushi menu.

I am a big but admittedly conservative fan of sushi - by which I mean I stay away from eel, octopus or bear creations. But even the more Boring White Dude choices are spectacularly fresh and beautifully prepared, and there are sushi and sashimi possibilities to please the most wild palates.

On my first visit, I wallowed happily in excess, ordering The Spice Club Roll ($11.95) and a Mauro Ginger Roll ($7.95). The former was eight pieces of wonder: each anchored in a flavor-splash of tempura flakes and dashes of tobiko (tiny, smokey spangles of fish eggs). They were wrapped lovingly in briskly-fresh, thick, velveteen slices of spicy salmon.

The latter's tangy tuna provided a smooth counterpart to crisp cucumber - and were again blessed with tobiko.

Also, from a list of daily specials, I couldn't resist the Tropical Roll ($10.95). The mainstay here was sweet crabmeat mixed with dollops of mango and avocado - all of which huddled together under nurturing hunks of giant shrimp.

As mentioned, sushi is only one aspect of a very creative and wide-reaching menu that includes appetizers, soups and salads, curries, noodle dishes, fried rice and wok creations, and Japanese and house special entrees.

To get rolling, my wife and I split an order of vegetable pot stickers ($5.95) and were more than happy with the crimped dumplings. The mixture of diced veggies therein were piquant and flavorful, and the crisped exterior provided a playful contrast.

We also tried a piece of Tamgo ($2.45), which is an egg sushi that's a bit like a slice of omelet atop sushi rice and fastened together with a little band of seaweed. Really interesting - but probably not for those who don't like room temp eggs.

We tried three entrees.

Crispy Garlic with Tofu ($10.95; there are several various-pirced meat options as well) sported neat squares of deliciously flavored tofu at play with ground garlic, pea pods, broccoli, carrots and cabbage. Each item was cooked to emphasize individual properties, and as such, the whole was a treasure chest of flavor and texture.

From the Japanese menus came Vegetable Teriyaki ($13.95) featuring baby corn, snow peas, broccoli, carrots, green beans, onion, cabbage and red and green bell peppers. The hint of char on the veggies mixed marvelously with the sweet savoriness of the teriyaki sauce.

Off the house special entree list, the Catch of the Day with Ginger Sauce ($14.95) looked pretty damned irresistible. I ordered red snapper, though tilapia and salmon were also available. A gorgeous filet, with crispy skin on the bottom for crunch, was at the heart of this heady invention. Shredded strings of mango provided color and a smooth flavor, while sliced cashews and lightly fried celery slices and chili sauce provided the other pyrotechnic components. The chili sauce was just slightly too salty - but that was only a small bump in the celestial highway of this dish.

A note: most entrees come with a servicable miso soup and a side salad. The salad looked unexciting - iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot - but the dressing was a mystery potion of gingery goodness.

The Spice Club

239 Main Street, Niantic
(860) 451-8121

Cuisine: Thai, Japanese, sushi and Asian

Atmosphere: Relaxed but very lovely. This works for Big Occasions or even the solo guy who wants some sushi while watching football on a big screen over the bar.

Service: Incredibly polite. On one occasion, an entree came very quickly on the heels of a soup course, but no serious harm.

Handicap access: Level passage from parking lot, and plenty of room between entry doors and between tables.

Credit cards: All majors accepted.

Reservations: Definitely on Thursdays and weekends.


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