I love Vietnamese food. There’s something about the mix of textures, tastes and spices that really makes it both soothing yet exotic. I usually prefer the hole-in-the-wall places that serve either pho (noodle soups) or classic Vietnamese crusty sandwiches with pickled veggies. I have never been a fan of Slanted Door. Too expensive for the kind of food you get, way overhyped, and totally overrated. So my friend and I decided on Tamarine in Palo Alto on University Ave. for something different from the standard Vietnamese.
My first impression wasn’t promising. The two hostesses at the front were completely shallow and cold. Hardly welcoming and not exactly the best first impression, no matter how blond and attractive they were. Fortunately, that’s where the negatives ended.
The waitress serving us had a genuine smile and had a delightfully caring way about her that made us forget the idiot hostesses right away. We were served our refreshingly tart yet sweet limeades, and waited for our dishes.
First, we started with the Honey Roasted Quail that was seasoned with five spice and stuffed with sticky rice and gingko nuts. It was delicious. The quail’s thin skin was crisp and roasted to perfection. The meat was cooked perfectly and the sticky rice wasn’t overpowering. It complemented the rich moist quail meat very nicely. The dipping salt and pepper mixture with a squeeze of lime was good and worked with the quail, but was almost unecessary.
Next up were two dishes. First, the Citrus Brined Pork Chop served with cabbage and bacon. The brine of citrus and apple cider infused the pork with a subtle and distinctive flavor, almost like it lightly perfumed it. It was delicious. Loved it, with the exception of the meat’s texture. It had been left on the grill just a minute too long. If the meat were moister, it would have been a perfectly executed dish.
We also shared the Tamarine Crab and Garlic Noodles. The dish was garnished with a heavy dose of cilantro, which cut through the heavy flavors of garlic, soy, and dungeness crab. The crab was slightly drier than I’d like and a bit disappointing. However, they didn’t skimp on it, and it did add flavor and texture. Overall, the dish was still quite good with all its varied flavors.
We ended the dinner with the Banana Beignets served with coconut ice cream and a light caramel sauce. They were fresh and hot and full of banana flavor. The pastry was crisp and perfect. However, the caramel was so light, it was flavorless. But the coconut ice cream was just the opposite. Perfectly light yet sweet. It was a nice creamy complement to the beignets.
Tamarine was a delightful surprise with it’s accomodating waitstaff (with the exception of the atrocious hostesses), stylish, sophisticated, yet comfortable decor of dark woods and lighter accents, and truly innovative Vietnamese food. The flavor combinations in each dish and the varied mix of ingredients made for an overall enjoyable experience.
Tamarine - 546 University Ave. – Palo Alto – 650.325.8500