Straight off: Im a relative newbie to Chowhounds.com, but Ive been relishing other peoples reviews of restaurants, taco trucks, hangouts, and bars for the past several weeks. To all, thank you.
Im a huge fan of South and Central American food. I love taco crawls especially down International Blvd. in Oakland. (Before I get to my main topic: has anyone tried El Centenario on International, pretty close to High Street? The frijole side to the homemade tortilla chips is to die for.) But Ill also indulge my passion at higher end restaurants. Thus, the following comments:
This past weekend, my hubbie and I went upscale and gave Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana on 8th Street in the Downtown area of Oakland a try. I was enthralled. Weve eaten many times at Fonda Solana on Solano Avenue in Albany and Dona Tomas on Telegraph in Oakland. Now, dont get me wrong, those places are terrific, but Tamarindo has a heart and soul that sets this new restaurant apart. Heres a brief comparison of the three:
Drinks: Unlike DT and FS, Tamarindo does not have a full bar, which, quite frankly, broke my tequila loving heart. The tequila flights at DT and FS are something to marvel at and FSs Fonda Margarita (infused with hibiscus) is something mighty darn special. The wine list at Tamarindo is really short, but the meritage that we tried was quite tasty.
Atmosphere: DT and FS are LOUD, LOUD, LOUD. And, FS does not have handicapped access to their second floor. Tamarindo, on the other hand, is light, airy and relatively quiet even at busy times (such as on a weekend in the later part of the evening). Also, the service at Tamarindo was very personal. Now, I know that their just getting started, but our waiter, Alfonso, was a dear. He took personal pride in the food, the family orientation of the restaurant and in the many fantastic decorations that dot the dining rooms katrinas and calaveras, to name a few. At DT and FS, the service is quick and professional, but, again, the heart of Tamarindo only added to the delight of the food. So, lets talk about that the food.
Food: First, FS. What a wonder are their small plates. Weve eaten at FS maybe a half dozen times and each time, the food rocks. While the dishes change, FSs sautéed prawns, duck tacos with salsa, tostaditas with citrus-braised pork and chipotle salsa and grilled skirt steak are to die for. My husband lies in wait for well made tamales and he doesnt think those at FS are anything to write home about, though.
DT also serves great food. Weve sampled (just to whet our appetite) the pepitas con chile de arbol and ceviche del mercado (white fish or crab with avocado, tomato, red onion, chilies, cilantro, lime and salsa). Then we plow through to the main courses: taquitos con papas y chiles (fried corn tortillas stuffed with potatoes, queso and poblano chiles), chile relleno con hongas (chanterelles), carne asada al chipotle (made with niman ranch beef) and, of course, the corn tamales. DH gives a thumbs up to DTs tamales.
But Tamarindo. Ahhhhh. The home made chips are served with a slightly sweet tomatillo salsa and an arbol/chipotle salsa. AND the chips and salsa are FREE, which I do not believe to be the case at FS and DT. The guacamole con totpos was great, but even better as an appetizer was the sopecitos surtidos (3 corn meal patties not tortillas -- topped with: chorizo y patatas, camarones al ajillo and rajas y cotija) Seriously, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
But we were only getting started. We followed up the appetizer with the Sopa Azteca (special soup of the day). The base soup was flavorful and beautifully blended and the sides: avocado slices, tortilla strips, queso cotija and strips of smoky chiles), were perfect additions.
Slowing down, but not willing to call it quits, we finished up the meal with Mulitas Niman Ranch steak, melted jack cheese and guacamole sandwiched between two tortillas de maiz, needless to say, my husband only got a nibble at that, and Tostaditas de Tinga Poblana miniature tostadas spread with black beans, chipotle chicken and crema. Heaven, truly. Tamarindo was out of and my husband was not a happy camper about it their tamales. So, no word on that front.
We're not much for desserts and we didnt have room for them at Tamarindo, but we did indulge in Chocolate Mexicano. Just, surprisingly, ok.
Move over, DT and FS, theres a new kid in town.
P.S. I first learned about Tamarindo from www.gastronomie.com