Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Spice Route Restaurant Review

Cuisine type: East Indian

Located at:
B103 - 2201
Box Springs Blvd NW
Spice Route Restaurant & Bar on UrbanspoonMedicine Hat, AB

Monday - Saturday 11:30 am - 9 pm
Sunday Brunch 12 pm - 8 pm

What this city has needed for a looong time is a good Indian restaurant.  So I was really excited to see that there was one opening this spring.  My problem, of course, is that I can never get anyone to go with me to ethnic restaurants, so I was happy when my best friend came out from Vancouver and we could give it a try together.

First impressions:
  • There was plenty of parking, though it may have filled up later, we were there at around 5:30 pm.
  • The restaurant was decorated in a modern, non-descript style, characteristic of most "strip mall" style restaurants; their soaring ceilings didn't do much to create an intimate eating experience.  The one thing I didn't care for in particular were the tv's, showing sports.  If you're going for the sports bar feel, then just be a sports bar. If I was coming for supper with my family, especially to a pricier restaurant, I wouldn't want the distraction of the tv's, especially since I don't follow sports. I want to focus on the food and fellowship, not golf.  I would have preferred a more distinctive Indian decor and perhaps some world music playing quietly.  And they were lacking ambient lighting.  There looked like there were plenty of lights, but they weren't on and it was overly dark in the restaurant.
  • The air conditioning was set a bit too high, by the time we left I was cold, so be sure to take a sweater.
  • It was clean, which I very much appreciate in a dining establishment!

Chips with sauces
The Food
We were given complimentary chips, unlike any I had ever had before.  They were delicious and had two dipping sauces, a tamarind sauce (which is always a favourite) and something I had never tried before, a green sauce made with mint, lime and cilantro.  It was refreshingly different, I thought I wouldn't like it, but I did.

The menu gives you plenty of options, and seems to be flexible, as we asked for Palak Paneer, which wasn't on the menu, and were able to get it.

Samosa's with sauces and salad
To start we had the samosas, which came with the same two dipping sauces as the chips had, as well as a small mixed vegetable salad on the side.  I'm not totally sure if the salad was meant as a garnish or to be eaten.  On one hand the portion was too generous for a garnish, but on the other, the vegetables were cut so big, that it seemed that maybe you weren't meant to eat it, as well, they were a little dry, as if they had been prepared earlier in the day and then left out uncovered.  Jeanette was convinced that the samosas weren't made in the restaurant, but were brought in from somewhere else.  Well, she knows her stuff, 'cause as I was paying, I casually asked if everything was made in the restaurant and the server told me that only the samosas were made elsewhere and shipped in.  They were fairly standard samosas, not the best I've ever had (those would be at the now defunct Bistro on Main in Blairmore), but not the worst either.

Clockwise from top left:
Butter Chicken, Palak Paneer
& Rice
This was followed by our main course, Butter Chicken, Palak Paneer, rice and naan.  Each main course came with your choice of rice or naan, so we chose one of each.

Now I love butter chicken, I could eat it every day and that's no exaggeration.  Even my husband, who is the "Pickiest Eater On Earth" (I think I should get him a trophy that says that) likes butter chicken.  So I've had my fair share of butter chicken at restaurants, as well as trying various brands of sauce at home.  This butter chicken was a bit different than I was used to, more tomatoey, and I LOVED IT!  It was so delicious, that even after I was full I couldn't stop eating it.  The chunks of chicken were tender and didn't have any gristle or fat on them, and there was plenty of sauce to put on the rice or sop up with naan.

The palak paneer, for those unfamiliar, is paneer cheese, a traditional fresh cheese cut into cubes and cooked in palak, a puree of spiced spinach.  It was also very delicious and typical of palak paneer's I've had before.  The rice was not mushy or overcooked, and made a nice base for the extra sauces from the main dishes.  The naan was the right amount of chewy, but I wish that restaurants would give a little more naan, as there never seems to be enough, otherwise, the serving sizes were adequate. I loved the metal bowls that the food came in, they were more exotic than what you often see and suited the cuisine.

At an average of $19 per entree, I felt that the food was overpriced.  I've eaten for less at comparable restaurants in bigger cities that probably have higher overhead, such as Calgary and Vancouver.  Perhaps their prices are higher because they are trying to set a certain tone, and attract a specific clientele, I'm not sure.

Service was their downfall.  The servers were friendly, but didn't seem to have specific tables assigned to them.  We were served by three different people throughout the meal, and it began to feel like they weren't keeping track of who was doing what.  When we ordered the Palak Paneer, we asked if they could make it, and the server said she would check, but then never returned with an answer, so we didn't know if we would get it until it showed up at the table (which was the next time we saw or spoke to a server).  Our "centerpiece" candle wasn't lit, and a server came to light it, but it went out within seconds of him leaving the table and no one bothered to relight it.  The servers were slow to take our order and bring our drinks and were impossible to flag down when we had questions, as they had customers seated far apart in the restaurant.

The service improved noticeably when they saw that we were taking pictures of the food, and for the rest of the meal the service was prompt and efficient.  Perhaps they realized that we were reviewing their restaurant?!

Overall I would give this restaurant a thumbs up, because in spite of a few shortfalls, the food makes it worthwhile, which is why you go out to eat in the first place.  I look forward to going back to eat more butter chicken and try a few things that I've never had before.

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