We were crestfallen when we saw that Bluebird Sky, our friendly neighborhood coffee shop, lunch spot, and meeting space, had closed. But a new nice-ish spot has opened in its place, and it's serving homestyle Malaysian food we'd be happy to eat again.
Aux Epices is owned by a husband and wife team—he French, she Chinese with years in Malaysia under her belt. The menu's pricier than elsewhere in Chinatown, with plates between $5.50 (small items) to $16. But we were pleased by how clean and light our dishes tasted without sacrificing the iconic flavors of Malaysian cooking or skimping on portion size—these are big plates of food.
Chicken is the only Rendang ($12.95) on the menu, but it's a tasty rendition: spoon tender and bold with shrimp paste and coconut. It's rich but less greasy than what you'll find at Nyonya around the corner, and it comes with a cone of coconut-tinged rice and some fresh pickles on the side.
You'll also find a nice Nasi Lemak ($12.95), the traditional Malaysian dish of rice with savory accompaniments. This version includes small fried fish, peanuts, a hard-cooked egg topped with curry paste, a small vegetable curry, and a side of tangy mushroom soup for moistening the rice. It also comes with a larger portion of delicately fried fish softened with onions and curry paste. You still get the fun of mixing and matching your nutty-fishy bites while also tucking into a more substantial dish.
Aux Epices is bright and tranquil with exposed brick and lots of natural light. It also has wi-fi, though it feels more like a restaurant than a working cafe. But it's a perk we might not refuse—you're paying higher than Chinatown prices not only for somewhat more refined food, but also for the pleasant space. We'll be back to see how it feels.
121 Baxter Street, New York, NY 10013 (map) 212-274-8585