Jessica Chouang brings a bowl of Thai-style duck noodle soup to the table at Spices, a new Asian restaurant (2417 Burlington, North Kansas City, Missouri) that opened one month ago. Pieces of roasted duck, slices of scallion and long, narrow egg noodles in a dark, fragrant broth await in the deep bowl. She smiles and laughs with gusto like a grandmother pleased to feed a favored child. The smile is easy to return followed by a deep sigh of gratitude.
Jessi, as she refers to herself, is prone to saying thank you often, grateful in turn for customers eager to try Spices’ array of Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian and Chinese food. Genuine friendliness and authentic cuisine subtly define this restaurant as more than another place to grab a quick lunch or dinner.
“We serve basic dishes from Vietnam, Laos and China,” says David Chouang, Jessi’s husband and the restaurant’s co-owner. “The main focus is Thai.”
David and Jessi opened Spices in North Kansas City after realizing that no one else in this part of the city served good authentic Thai food. Certainly, North Kansas City and the sprawling Northland is a territory that could use more Asian cuisine properly prepared.
The Chouangs bring roughly 20 years of restaurant industry experience to this new venture. They also own and operate Bangkok Pavilion (Windmill Square, 7249 W 97th Street) in Overland Park.
Born in Laos, David and Jessi lived in a region of Laos near Thailand. David grew up in Thailand before he moved to Miami, where he learned the restaurant industry by working at a friend’s business.
“I came to Kansas City in 1989 to do business for a PC company and stayed here,” says David. “In 1991, I bought a restaurant from Dr. Sushi.”
That purchase became Bangkok Pavilion, running steady two decades later. For now, David and Jessi want to focus on basic Thai dishes, plus its roster of food from other cuisines, at Spices to develop a regular audience. In upcoming months, they will expand the menu or offer specials on dishes found at their flagship restaurant, such as fried whole red snapper.
The selection at Spices includes plenty of options to explore. For the food purist, the pro tip is to ask the server or owners to prepare each dish in its authentic style. Otherwise, the dish is “Americanized” for palates that cannot handle strong flavors.
For instance, the Som Tum papaya salad is prepared two ways. The Laos-style is similar to Isan cooking, reflecting tastes in Thailand’s largest region in the northeast. This version of papaya salad uses crab juice and crab legs that infuse the fresh shaved papaya with a funky flavor. The Thai version, common to central Thailand, is less pungent and gamey, more sweet and light.
“Isan has more balance and strong flavor,” explains David.
Thai sausage, an appetizer on the Spices menu, is a must-try dish. Made in-house, thick links of sausage are filled with pork, spices, ginger, garlic, peanuts and chilies. Eat slice packs a kick but the flavor combination is worth the zing. Eat the sausage with the piece of lettuce that comes with the dish to help cool your jets. A side order of sweet sticky rice eaten with the sausage balances the heat too.
Roasted duck pad grapow is another flavor-filled dish made with stir-fried fresh basil leaves, chili and black pepper. It’s more mild on heat. Spoon a bit of broth with each bite and let the rich flavor work its magic. In Thai, the proper response is, “A-roy.” Pronounced “ah-loy,” it is indeed good. If duck isn’t your game, Spices makes pad grapow with chicken, beef, pork or seafood as well.
Lasak curry seafood noodle soup is awash with mild red curry, green onions, fried onions, cilantro, carrots and ample seafood over rice vermicelli noodles.
Spices’ menu has much more to explore. It’s a greatest hits of Asian cuisine, sans sushi, for anyone that craves pho, pad see eew, pad Thai, General Tso’s chicken, fried rice and even the pedestrian standbys, crab rangoon and fried spring rolls.
Before parting, a final serving of sweet sticky rice with fresh sliced mango and sweet coconut milk on top is representative of a traditional Thai dessert. After all, some sugar is nice to balance out the spice.