I really wanted to like Tamarind Tree, but my overall assessment was lukewarm. I drove right by it when I first arrived as you can not see the sign from the street. This place is so popular, I highly recommend making reservations.
Make reservations. Order any dish that is grilled – this is where Tamarind Tree excels.
We arrived at 7pm on Saturday night with no reservation and waited for a little over an hour for a table. The waiting area is right by the front door and it was a shoving fest as people streamed in and out of the restaurant. There is a bar, but it's not set up to accommodate people waiting. But if you flagged the very busy hostess, she happily brought drink orders. The interior is warm and slightly upscale, but there is nothing stuffy about this place as the noise level and bustle keep things very casual. Word of warning - order your dishes as you go throughout the meal. They brought everything out all at once, and extremely quickly. The kitchen is too efficient for its own good.
This is a not-sweet tasty martini that is greyish-pink in color. It's made with pomelo juice, lime juice and vodka. It was like a mild version of a grapefruit martini (mild in flavor, not alcohol). My dining partner liked it so much he ordered one after tasting mine.
Tôm me lụi - Tamarind prawns satay
This appetizer was my favorite dish of the night. Three medium size head-on shrimp are skewered, grilled and topped with a light fish sauce. It was served with a little mysterious bowl of what tasted like heavily peppered lime juice that overwhelmed the flavor of the shrimp, so I skipped it. It wasn't necessary as the shrimp were delicious on its own.
Bò lá lốt - Grilled la-lot beef roll
This was my second-favorite dish of the night. Seasoned ground beef meatballs are rolled into oblong shapes, wrapped in extremely thin and delicate la-lot leaves, which looked similar to seaweed, and are skewered and grilled. The chargrill flavor was fantastic and the interesting pineapple/anchovy dipping sauce tasted neither of pineapple or anchovy, but was light and complimented the beef rolls wonderfully.
Gỏi cuốn Cây Me - Tamarind Tree rolls
These Vietnamese fresh rolls are spiked with a crunchy length of fresh coconut that adds much needed crunch to the texture and an unexpected flavor to the rolls. It was unique enough that I encourage you to order it, but I probably wouldn't order it again, opting instead to further explore the menu.
Bánh xèo Cây Me - Tamarind Tree crepe
This was the most unique dish of the evening. These are actually lettuce wraps. It's a huge portion; more than two people can eat. The crepe is a very thick pancake made from a slightly sweet (maybe coconut milk-based?) batter. It’s filled with a huge mound of sautéed bean sprouts, with several shrimp and shiitakes mixed in and what I think were calamari strips. The crepe filling didn’t have a distinct seasoning so the prominent flavor was that of the crepe batter. The crepe is served with a plate of lettuce leaves and a very generous portion of basil. The crepe is a mess to serve as they only provided a butter knife and we had no utensils other than chop sticks and Asian soup spoons at the table. You select a lettuce leaf, add a few pieces of basil, and then somehow transfer a scoop of the crepe to the lettuce. You then wrap it and dip it into the accompanying sauce, which was the light reddish sauce that is typically served with fresh rolls. I’m glad I tried it but it wasn’t scrumptious enough to make me want to order it again.
Cơm sườn bò nướng - Grilled beef short ribs with rice
We ordered this because the waitress said it’s her favorite dish on the menu. Fantastic flavor on the ribs, but they weren’t as tender as I’d hoped. It’s served with a light fish sauce that we loved. After dipping the ribs, we poured it over the rice.
Bánh nếp chuối nướng - Grilled banana cake
The description of this dish says “grilled sweet rice and red banana served with warm coconut milk, topped with roasted peanuts.” My naivety led me to expect a banana served with Thai-style sticky rice. That’s not what you get. I didn’t discern the rice in this dish. It’s a warm banana wrapped in what must be rice-based dough. The dough is gummy, so I didn’t care for the texture, but the flavor was good and we really liked the warm coconut milk sauce. Oddly, there were a few green onions sprinkled on the dish. I’m not sure if it was a mistake or intentional, but we avoided them nonetheless.