Dined at Tamarine last night. Having found no recent reports, and reading old posts reporting somewhat mixed opinions, I had some trepidation. But Ive always wanted to try it and figured Id stick to what hounds have said was good. I was pleasantly surprised! Tamarine exceeded my expectations, albeit being pricy.
We started with 2 specialty cocktails: a ginger/mint/light rum concoction and a mandarin orange drop (like a lemon drop) ($8.50 each). Both drinks were beautifully presented and tasty (the ginger mint not too sweet, as promised by our server), but I found them a tad watered down.
As starters we had the nested prawns ($9) and the honey roasted quail ($9). The nested prawns looked like very thin imperial rolls with tails sticking out the ends. Each prawn was split, straightened out, stuffed, then fried. The menu states that the stuffing was pork pate, but I couldnt taste it. The coating was thin, lacy, and not greasytaro root is my guess. Very tasty. The quail also pleasantly surprised us and was our favorite app. For some reason I expected the quail to be in pieces and feared it would be dry. Not so. It was a whole, semi boned out quail with a crispy bronzed skin and succulent meat, stuffed with savory sticky rice. Quail flavor was clearly evident despite the sweet glaze. Excellent.
For mains we had the shaking beef ($23) and the lemongrass bass ($22). Both were flavorful and perfectly prepared. Exactly consistent with prior reports, except the beef was without sinew. To accompany the mains, we had empress rice ($6) which was sticky rice cooked with aromatics and served with a lightly fried egg on top. You break the runny yolk and stir the egg into the rice. It was just delicious with its yolky richness and shards of butter fried egg white and had a beautiful texturewe kept going back to it between bites of the entrees and couldnt leave a grain of it behind.
Given our entrees, matching appropriate wines (by the glass) seemed a challenge We ended up with a pinot and a South African sarah (sorry, I dont remember the producers and the wine list is not online), which worked. Wines were served in appropriate stemware of good quality.
We skipped dessert as the much lauded lychee sorbet was not available and nothing else struck our fancy. Actually, it was one of those meals that left such a nice aftertaste in my mouth that I didnt want to disturb it with anything else.
In retrospect, perhaps we should have ordered something spicy, just for contrast. But I couldnt fault a single dish.
The service was very good: attentive and professional, good pacing, non-intrusive, cutlery changed between courses, and largely well informed. One thing: we asked our server the origin of the Dungeness crab on the menu (it being out of season here). She didnt know and went to the kitchen to find out. Upon return she said that the head chef was not in tonight and that nobody knew where the crab came from. No big deal, but Im still curious. Also, the server was adept at up-selling, offering bottled water (but also iced tap), recommending the most expensive rice accompaniment and extra vegetables for the table, recommending the most expensive wines by the glass. We heard her doing the same to surrounding dinners. I understand why they do it and dont really mind, but without paying attention you could rack up a surprisingly hefty bill. I think that Tamarine is an example of those places where a small plates meal can come out more expensive than a standard entrée meal of the same quality. (In fact, I dont think they should call the entrees small plates as they were not small. Had we ordered 3 small plates rather than 2, it would have been way too much food. Further up-selling? I now recall that Melanie mentioned that in her report but it didnt register with me.) Our total, excluding tip, was $112.58. Note that the menu on Tamarines website is the lunch menu. Dinner prices for the same items are slightly higher.
All in all, it was an elegant experiencethe room, food, and service. Ill say it again: it exceeded my expectations.