Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Spyce in Harvard Square serves customizable bowls such as the Bungalow, which has brown basmati rice, coconut curry, seared asparagus, marinated carrots, raisins, chilled eggplant and corn poblano salsa. (Photo: Tom Meek)

So this happened: I had a robot make me lunch. The newly arrived eatery Spyce was incubated at MIT to create an automated kitchen that could assemble nutritious meals on the cheap and with  consistent  quality. The result was the “Infinite Kitchen” that the team at Spyce built in Downtown Crossing and then replicated in Chipotle’s vacated Brattle Square storefront. The Infinite Kitchen looks like something from Disney World’s Tomorrowland: a series of silos with prepped and precooked foods such as rice, quinoa, beets, corn and cucumber slices. The kitchen’s right by the dining area, so you get to watch your bowl go through the assembly line – maybe while pondering the rise of Skynet. The hot proteins (tofu, chicken, salmon or mushrooms) are cooked in rotating woks and deposited atop your custom incarnation, which the robots dress with your desired degree of sauce and spice. The menu is pretty much salads and grain bowls that you order through one of the many consoles in a modern, Ikea-esque enclave after narrowing selections by plugging in dietary goals (low-carb, keto, etc.) and allergens. I’ve had the Bungalow (brown basmati rice, coconut curry, seared asparagus, marinated carrots, raisins, chilled eggplant and corn poblano salsa) and the Umami Q (brown basmati rice, hoisin ginger glaze, roasted Broccolini, sesame-roasted mushrooms, edamame,  kimchi, cucumber and a sesame chili spice blend). Each took about three to five minutes from ordering to arrival in a neat, friendly box with my name on it. I had both combos with roasted chicken and both were pretty good. The sauce seemed to pool at the bottom instead of being distributed throughout, and I specified both times to go light on the optional turmeric hot sauce but, while I loved the spicy bite, I would have listed the “mild dash” as medium-to-smoking on the universal hot scale. The Big Biang, with chili garlic, a ramen base and mushrooms, is next on my radar.

At about $12 a bowl, the price is pretty reasonable. As a casual-fine entry, Spyce is in Square company with Whole Heart Provisions in Harvard’s Smith Center, which remains shuttered, and Sweetgreen. Like its competitors, Spyce has rotating seasonal offerings. My favorite nutritional blend in the Square remains the warm grain bowl with maple drizzle and a fried farm egg at Henrietta’s Table in the Charles Hotel; but that’s more of a spot to sit down and enjoy, not to grab and go, while Spyce has its novelty factor and a bar with some neat alcoholic libations. (The bartender isn’t a ’bot but is one of many friendly service workers who, as the founders say, get to focus on customers instead of worrying about the timing and consistency of the food.) The other cool thing about Spyce is that the tableware, box and even the rubber band holding it all together are 100 percent compostable something I’m happy to know at the end of a satisfying nosh.

Spyce (1 Brattle Square, Harvard Square)

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.