Restaurant Review: Tamarind (3 Stars)



Like asia itself, Tamarind is a study in contrasts. Enter, and the bar throbs like tokyo or hong kong: all streamlined steel and glass washed in blue techno glare. Walk a few feet further and all is ordered calm: cinnamon walls, burnished pine floor, black lacquer chairs, filmy netting draped over towering bamboo. I’m impressed—and hopeful. Will the food measure up?

 

My two companions, return visitors, say it does. Word-of-mouth says it does. Open not even a year, tamarind has buzz, and its fervent pitch has lured me clear across the county.

 

We’re greeted warmly and seated opposite the gleaming open kitchen. Menus are opened, and my eyebrows soar toward the bamboo rafters above us. “asian-fusion,” the phone reservationist had told me when asked about the type of food. Well, this was asian, all right—as in the entire continent, the indian sub-continent, and the south pacific to boot. I counted eight different countries whose cuisines were drawn upon, and we intended to sample them all. (turns out even cuba, somehow, weighed in but not until dessert, so i’m getting way ahead of myself.)

 

First, the drinks. You can get the usual chardonnay and merlot and many other wines too, but why when a mandarin cosmopolitan, berry-lime margarita, or seven exotic martinis beckon? (all $7.50.)

 

So, yes, we were smiling when our appetizers were set down, each a vision of color and design. But it’s easy enough to make a martini—even one called sleep with the fishes featuring an anchovy-stuffed olive. But a thai hot and sour soup with shrimp and scallops? Goat cheese and duck breast purses? Salmon spring rolls?

 

One swirl of a spoon and the soup, deep and murky in its shimmering cobalt bowl, erupts in a hail of minced shellfish, red pepper, asparagus and carrots. The powers of curry and lemongrass whirl it all into hot, potent perfection.

 

For all the perfect heat of the soup, though, the salmon spring roll is chilled to numbness, its flavor all but lost. If only the goat cheese and duck breast purses were satchels—we long for more of their tangy, garlicky kick.

 

The entrées arrive, and the marinated whole jumbo shrimp my friend naomi ordered are jumbo, all right, laid like fiery spokes over a mound of malaysian-style noodles and vegetables. But they are also “whole,” as in heads, eyes, antennae—not what naomi envisioned. Graciously, the kitchen takes them back, denudes each one and regrills the meat; they return smaller but so much prettier. They’re savory and tender, but so salty that our water is finished before the prawns are.

There’s nothing asian about braised lamb shank—except when it’s infused with cumin, coriander and garam masala, and crowned with a tuft of enoki mushrooms. Ours is tender and succulent and, as are all our entrées, of gargantuan proportion, and the mushroom risotto beside it sings of earth and woods.

 

Not that i can see it well over my mountainous bangkok bouillabaisse. Somewhere beneath the pile of shellfish and calamari lies broth, and digging deep, i find it: a heady thai elixir of lemongrass, coconut milk, cilantro, ginger and lime. Unfortunately, i also find more salt, (note to executive chef daniel rubino: put a lid on it!) Which a pretty side dish of triple-tiered rice—red himalayan, black chinese and white basmati—helps quell.

 

But exquisite relief is imminent: the sweet, bracing crystals of a tamarind granita ($7.50). The other desserts don’t sound like slouches, either, particularly the bombones de arroz (philippine rice fritters served with frozen chocolate banana), and the east-meets-west ginger crème brûlée. But greedy tykes that we are, we have to have the chocolate cuban churchill (i told you we’d get to cuba), a chocolate shell-wrapped chocolate mousse cigar with two small scoops of tahitian vanilla ice cream in a port wine reduction. The presentation is bold and inventive: the cigar rests in an actual ashtray, its edges dusted with confectioner’s sugar “ash.” Gimmicky? Yes. Amusing? Yes. Irresistible? As most of our dishes here, absolutely.   

 

TAMARIND

112 North Nain St., Port Chester

(914) 939-9103

 

HOURS:

Lunch, Tue. to Fri. 12-2:30 pm

Dinner, Mon. to Sat. from 6 pm

 

PRICES:

Appetizers: $7-$10

Entrées $17-$25

Desserts $7.50

 

RATINGS

Food—VVV

Service—VVVV

Décor—VVV

 

 

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