Spring Natural Kitchen
Spring Street Natural, a haven for vegetarians, customers seeking gluten-free products, and organic, free-range meat lovers alike, has been pleasing diverse SoHo diners since 1973, but their little sister Spring Natural Kitchen at 83rd and Columbus has been open less than a year. Great downtown restaurants setting up shop in our neck of the city makes us so happy, and this is a great example.
Chef Direk Srongloop grew up in Thailand, and under his Grandmother’s tutelage learned about delicately balancing flavors and sourcing flavorful and healthy ingredients. Shopping for produce and proteins on Bangkok’s floating markets, where local people sell all kinds of food and wares off docks and small boats, he learned an appreciation for personally selecting each item and knowing the person you’re buying it from. Once here in New York, he maintained an approach of buying locally from trusted merchants, and therefore selecting only the very freshest ingredients. Over many years he has created a type of fusion – not a fusion of flavors, but of ideas – as he has brought Thai concepts about ingredients and healthful eating to authentic preparations of Italian, Middle-Eastern, Spanish, and Creole dishes, all of which he prepares with a strong understanding of balancing flavors.
The results are delicious. At brunch there are a wide variety of unusual options involving organic eggs. There are several omelets, one featuring andouille and pesto and another with ratatouille, and they offer a benedict with Maine crab meat – yum. My favorite in this section is the Mayan eggs, which is a bowl of brown Spanish rice with tortilla, jack cheese, guacamole, green onions, ranchero sauce, sweet plantains and eggs. The flavor profile is totally unique, with mild elements of salt, sweet and spice. On the sweeter side of breakfast offerings, there are pancakes for all types: old-school buttermilk, banana walnut, and vegan whole-wheat taro root pancakes tempt vegans and omnivores alike.
Moving on to lunch offerings, there is an array of delicious, healthy, fresh organic salads, and a variety of interesting sandwiches (Oyster po’boy anyone?) But here I’m going to recommend the awesome burgers, the favorite being the lamb burger, a generous juicy Moroccon-spiced patty grilled how you like it and topped with goat cheese, figs and caramelized onions. It is one of my favorite burgers in the city, and again utilizes Chef Direk’s knowledge of combining flavors, while honoring a mid-East flavor profile.
Later in the day, start your meal with one of Spring’s unique refreshing cocktails. I’m a gin girl, so my favorite drinks are similar, the colonist — Hendrick’s with mint, lime, cucumber and tonic — and the hummingbird — Hendrick’s, St. Germain, lychee puree, lime juice and seltzer. But we obviously must give a shout-out for their “UWS-Manhattan,” which is McKenzie Rye Whiskey from the fingerlakes, Carpana Antica Italian Sweet vermouth, angostura bitters, and brandied cherries.
After a few of these cocktails, it’s time to order food. There are several good simple standbys such as the crispy-skinned chicken over polenta with healthy seasonal vegetables. If you’re looking for something vegan, and can handle a bit of heat, try the red curry with tofu and tempeh, which when juxtaposed accentuate one another, creating a texture revolving between creamy and chewy. The nuttiness of the tempeh also plays well off the spiciness of the red curry. My favorite dish on the entree menu is a delicious crispy-skinned fish (I think it’s bass) served with a slightly sweet orange and grape sauce, and crunchy roasted potatoes. It almost tastes like a duck preparation, except that it’s a lovely flaky white fish underneath. The only problem is that when the chef buys only local and fresh ingredients, all your favorites becomes perennials, so I cannot have my delicious fish until it comes back into season!
This brings me to the most important thing about this restaurant: ordering off the specials menu. Although I have recommended my top pick from every category above, what I really recommend is that you ignore all my suggestions and order whatever is available du jour, because finding the freshest local ingredients and creating delicious new dishes is really what this place excels at most. A recent special was homemade saffron linguine with scallops, fresh lump crab meat, baby shitakes, and clams, which we could not stop eating. We have often ordered seafood specials, a soup special here or there, and alternating gnocchis. So as tempting as the Mayan eggs, Moroccan lamb burger and crunchy-skin bass may sound (I’m getting so hungry thinking about them!) I also urge you to try whatever Chef Direk has selected personally from the market and prepared from scratch that day, because it’s always good.
Also revolving are the dessert options by Pastry Chef Katina Johnstone. When available, my absolute favorite is the butterscotch pudding. It is unbelievably tasty, just sweet enough to satisfy my cravings but keep me digging through the whole bowl. Manager Justin shared that the bread pudding is similarly delicious, so I’m on the lookout for that! Wanna split one? Meet me there.
Did I forget your favorite Spring Natural Kitchen dish? Want to add on or disagree with me? Have other restaurants I need to check out? Comment and let me know!
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Native Upper West Sider. Clinical Psychiatrist. Consumer and creator of food and culinary writing.