When we reviewed SpicyZest earlier this year, the Sri Lankan restaurant had been open for roughly one year. Now, just a few months shy of its two-year anniversary, this Farmers Branch establishment is introducing brunch.
SpicyZest has proclaimed its brunch, featuring a bevy of Sri Lankan breakfast favorites, to be the only one of its kind in Texas. Certainly, it is the only Sri Lankan brunch we've tried, with its deviled fish and hoppers. More on these items later.
A visit to SpicyZest for brunch is an intimate, casual affair, featuring just a handful of tables and disposable plates. The server greeted us and led us to the buffet of dishes, which looked like a terra cotta army. The dishes reside in terra cotta tureens, kept warm by tea lights. Our server took the time to go down the buffet, explaining each dish and how to combine them when appropriate.
She advised us, for instance, to start with the herbal porridge. This split pea-colored porridge is served with a piece of jaggery, or cane sugar, and is said to have medicinal properties. The porridge has a cool, slightly medicinal taste tempered by a thin broth of coconut milk flecked with rice. It makes for a calming prelude to a meal driven by a powerhouse of flavor.
Next, add a few of the deviled sprats to your plate. These tiny, oily fishes are cooked in a heavily spiced mixture of peppers and onions. Eaten whole, these crispy little fish provide a bony snap of textural contrast against the silky onions that surround them.
Onions also play a key role in the seeni sambol, a deeply caramelized onion relish (think French onion soup minus the liquid). Two other relishes, pol sambol and katta sambol, were available to dress out dishes. While the pol (coconut) sambol introduced an element of sweetness, the katta (chili) sambol introduced a pleasant level of heat and a note of acidity.
Sambols make excellent accompaniments to the hoppers, which come in two varieties. String hoppers are small bundles of red rice noodles. These springy carbohydrate nests are suitable for cradling not only sambols but brothy curries and the like. Hoppers (sans string) are fermented rice flour pancakes. These thin, bowl-shaped cakes have a pleasant, sourdough-like twang to them. When cooked with a cracked egg, the overall effect is not far removed from that of an egg English muffin.
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An egg hopper or two topped with some chili sambol would make for a satisfying meal, but that would sell short the sheer diversity and number of foods offered at SpicyZest's brunch service. There's the turmeric-based potato curry laced with curry leaves and coriander seeds, savory curries of pork and chicken, an intensely aromatic dry chickpea curry, saffron-hued dhal and molded rice dishes like pittu (or puttu), which consist of ground rice and coconut formed into sweet cylinders.
For those adventurous brunchers looking to break away from the pack of chicken and waffles, brunch burgers and mimosa carafes, SpicyZest provides an intriguing and much-awaited alternative. Sri Lankan foods offer flavor and textural combinations which are exciting while still accessible, and SpicyZest's focus on hospitality makes for a truly memorable dining experience.
13920 Josey Lane, Farmers Branch. Brunch, $14.99, is served from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays.