Housed in a little shoebox on the corner of Bryant and 23rd, I had no idea Spice Jar had been here for over two years. The spot is cozy, with a shared table in the middle and counter seating along the windows, inside and out. The décor is a bright, modern take on street food-charming, with Café du Monde coffee cans holding the silverware, all-the-rage-Edison bulbs strung on a tree branch, planters as art, and a crowded, convivial atmosphere.

Spice Jar.

They do Pan-Asian comfort food here, and have a selection of sakes, but I started out with a nice Albariño:

Spice Jar Albarino.

And then I let the BF order, as he was starving.

Spice Jar seaweed salad.

First up, a seaweed salad, which was, unexpectedly, a giant bowl of mixed greens with some seaweed atop and crumbled pieces of nori. Not bad, but we expected a typical seaweed salad — even though it said “mixed greens” right on the menu. Sadly, it really was too much lettuce, and not properly dressed, for me — we didn’t finish it.

We had an order of plump gyoza:

Spice Jar gyoza.

These were nice, good texture, porky and really hefty.  As gyoza lovers, we’d get these again.

The BF’s main was Mongolian Beef, a favorite dish of his.

Spice Jar Mongolian Beef.

Flavors were good, but the beef was a little tough. I like that it was served in a wok. Little touches like that sometimes work.

I had the tonkotsu-shoyu ramen, topped by a fine nest of slivered dried peppers — a nice touch — with a braised spare rib.

Spice Jar tonkotsu Ramen.

Again, another instance of not reading the menu. What is a bone-in piece of meat doing in ramen? The broth was a little timid, not as creamy/dreamy as other tonkotsu I’ve had, but had a good smokiness to it, and it was more than fine once I added sriracha. The rib, however, was a little tough and dry, stringy. I would much have preferred a few chewy slices of pork. And I personally like the boiled egg in ramen to be of the gooier variety. The noodles, however, had a very satisfying chew and were the best part of the dish. I brought most of it home with me.

My second visit was with two friends and the 12 year-old daughter (Martha) of one of them. We split all of the dishes, staring with the portabella tempura:

Spice Jar portabella tempura

It looked so impressive! But while the mushroom’s texture inside was good, the coating wasn’t crispy enough. It made us sad.

Next, a seafood “fondue:”

Spice Jar seafood fondue.

Which turned out to be more like an Asiany cioppino, with little squares of sweet-ish toasted bread to dip into the broth. Chock full of shrimp, calamari, fish, etc., we loved this dish. Definitely something I’d get again.

Martha ordered the shrimp and chicken fried rice, and what a great choice:

Spice Jar fried rice.

Another winner — it had a great veggie sweetness to it, with fat shrimpies and tender chicken. Another “Yes, please!”

I had never had laksa before, a Southeast Asian spicy coconut curry soup with noodles, shrimp, chicken and tofu, so that was my pick:

Spice Jar Laksa

The broth was milder than I expected, and the noodles weren’t as perky as I would have liked, but it was a comforting dish. I took most of it home, and it actually did improve in flavor for lunch the next day, as most things do.

One of my friends ordered the muu shuu hanger steak wraps:

Spice Jar hanger steak muu shuu.

The beef, on a bed of sautéed onions and bell peppers, was overly chewy again, but with a nice grilled flavor; although one of the women said it lacked seasoning — we could not discern any spices spicing — and so was rather more fajita than muu shuu. It came with a cilantro yogurt sauce that we all loved, which went a long way in making the dish palatable. We also shared a side of roti bread with curry dip that was tasty, but I forgot to take a picture of it. Oops.

We finished off with dessert: ginger ice cream:

Spice Jar ginger ice cream.

Martha deemed the ginger ice cream “almost TOO creamy” and I got what she meant, but it was really lovely, with little chunks of crystallized ginger.  But I like a kid with a definite foodie opinion.

And green tea mochi:

Spice Jar green tea mochi.

A nice light bite to finish on.

There seems to be a lot of take-out action happening here — another techie standby. And even though I found the food at Spice Jar uneven, I’d still come back for the things we liked, and to try a few new things — the garlic aonori fries sound intriguing, for one, and the wok-stirred garlic noodles, for another. The menu seems to change regularly, which is always a good sign that they’re trying to keep things fresh and new.

I like what owner Ryuichi Hamada is trying to do — fusion often gets a bad rap amid cries for “authenticity.” But for me, authenticity is trumped (pardon the inadvertent horrific association) by quality, freshness, and good flavors.

Spice Jar
2500 Bryant St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 829-3668
http://www.thespicejarsf.com/