Still needs a dash of focus

Spice Kitchen

Spice Kitchen

1724 Broadway
Sacramento, CA

(916) 492-2250

There’s been a lot of change in the restaurant landscape of late, with several high-profile closings and openings. One that’s escaped mostly under the radar is the presto chango of Hokkaido Noodle House into Spice Kitchen a few months ago.

The chef remains the same from the Hokkaido days, but the ownership is new and since the switch, the menu has gone in a few different directions. There are tangential dishes like pad thai, but it’s mostly focused on Japanese cuisine, with a side menu of Chinese-American favorites.

We started with vegetable tempura, which was lightly fried and included slices of Japanese sweet potato and yams for a fun compare-and-contrast opportunity. The sunomono salad had large chunks of crisp cucumber half-moons bathed in a rice vinegar dressing. These fresh pickles are a great palate awakener.

Complimentary miso soup is warming but pedestrian, despite the addition of fresh scallions and tofu dice.

However, ramen is the hot soup dish these days, so it’s practically mandatory that we try Spice Kitchen’s version. The red tonkotsu ramen came with lots of nicely chewy noodles, spinach and the requisite soft-boiled egg. The broth was well-spiced, but lacked the depth of those at other ramen houses. Thin and juicy slices of chashu roulade were fine, but not the deep-fried tonkotsu that was listed. Still, we slurped it up.

The same pork was more successful in a donburi rice bowl. Half the bowl was filled with perfectly al dente broccoli and the other with the savory chashu. This dish benefited from additional chashu barbecue sauce, bringing all the components together deliciously.

Fresh udon can be an underappreciated dish, and the noodles here were well-cooked. The nabayaki udon, studded with chunks of moist chicken and crispy shrimp tempura, is served with an addictive sauce that encouraged us to finish the generous portion.

Spice Kitchen also serves bento boxes in lunch and dinner portions for a good price. Here, diners get soup, rice, salad and tempura, as well as a meat of choice. Even smaller kids’ plates forgo the tempura for supercrunchy gyoza. The chicken teriyaki addition was expertly grilled and sliced, served with a judicious amount of sauce.

The one Chinese dish we tried was kung pao chicken, for old-time’s sake. Chinese-American fare often tends to be greasy. This iteration was a bit oily, but nonetheless satisfying, with lots of red-skinned peanuts and caramelized onions amid the chicken. Green peppers are ubiquitous in this dish, but red or yellow would be a welcome substitute.

The rest of the menu is rounded out with lots of appetizers and ramen variations, plus a few nabemono hot pots. You can also, somewhat oddly, order lamb chops or steak, both served with rice, salad and soup. They may well be good, but we didn’t partake.

The waitress told us that they’ll be opening a sushi bar soon (doesn’t everyone these days?). No specific date was yet available.

Seeing that Spice Kitchen is just down the block from New Helvetia Brewing Company, it would be great if it served some local brews. You can get takeout and eat at New Helvetia, however. In fact, orders more than $25 are delivered for free within the neighborhood.

The service was quick and knowledgeable, although the atmosphere is marred by the odd dance music and twin TV sets that are tuned to different channels. Pull up one of the colorful throw pillows on the bench seats along the wall if you need dueling soap operas at lunchtime.

Despite its somewhat unfocused approach, Spice Kitchen is a nice addition to that stretch of Broadway. Keep an eye on this business. It may yet narrow its menu more to find an ideal niche in the Sacramento dining scene.