A Bali Restaurant With Laid-Back Appeal


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Egg with tiger prawns and yellow noodles.

From the outside, Spice by Chris Salans seems out of place in the moss-covered jungle town of Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali, Indonesia’s most tourist-trod island. This restaurant, unlike many of its culinary neighbors, has no outdoor seating, thatched bamboo roof or fresh frangipani flowers strewn about. Its glass-walled exterior, with Southwestern-like tiles and a somewhat ostentatious sign, feels a little too polished and proper. But once you are inside, Spice exudes a decidedly relaxed atmosphere and has an affordable menu of locally inspired dishes.

The chef may not be a native, but neither is he new to the island. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in France, Chris Salans moved to Bali in 1995 and became executive chef at the Legian Bali resort a year later. Shortly after, he opened Mozaic in Ubud, a fine-dining restaurant with a tasting menu, followed by a similarly styled offshoot, Mozaic Beach Club in Seminyak, which recently closed.

Spice, which opened in July 2015, has a more laid-back appeal: communal wooden tables with colorful benches and a horseshoe-shaped bar (recycled liquor bottles serve as light fixtures) that also acts as an eight- to 10-person chef’s table. Behind it, a handful of Indonesian cooks in cool denim aprons paired with traditional Udeng head wraps whip up Mr. Salans’s unfussy food.

“The idea is sharing,” Mr. Salans said. “To try two or three different dishes and make it a discovery of flavors.”

During a visit earlier this year, those flavors included sauces like basa gede, a mixture of 14 to 17 ingredients, most of which Mr. Salans can impressively list off the top of his head: “Garlic, shallots, two types of chile, galangal, ginger, turmeric, aromatic ginger, lemongrass, long pepper, black pepper, salam leaf — and I’m probably missing a couple,” he said.

The menu is divided into sections like “Two Legs and Four Legs” and “Fins and Shells” and printed on a sheet of paper on which diners are meant to tick off their choices with a pencil. Given the modest prices, piling up plates is tempting, but be warned: Portions are hefty. My special Spice Salad was filled with so many flavorful elements — mango, lemongrass, avocado, fried tempeh, radish, fresh chile — I almost didn’t have room for my side of crispy cassava root fries with “basa gee espuma,” a kind of whipped-foam aioli. Almost.

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