1036 S. Jackson Street
Seattle WA 98116
Stylish? Tasty? Cheap? Check, check and check!
By: Bryan R
So I have to admit something: I've never been quite sure what tamarind actually is. I see the word around from time to time, I know it's a flavoring, and I've probably consumed a little at some point. But beyond that, I'm stumped. Finally, when doing research for Tamarind Tree, I learned where its namesake comes from! Apparently, it's a fruit-bearing tree native to tropical climates, whose fruit is processed and made into a tart mash that flavors everything from Indian to Thai to Egyptian food, and is even an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. To top it off, tamarind can also be used (no joke) as a polish for brass! But I digress...
During our visit to Tamarind Tree, an excellent, self-described "provincial Vietnamese restaurant", we found it had very little brass that needed polishing but instead, had lots of fresh, tasty food that needed consuming in what must be one of the most artfully decorated dining rooms in all the International District. In fact, the only problems we had with the place was locating it (it's tucked far back into the corner of a parking lot) and fitting into one of the few open parking spots available at this popular eatery.
Outside, the sun was bright and a little intense so it was a welcome blessing when we stepped into the refreshing, slightly dim interior of Tamarind Tree. The place was a little bit crowded and it took a couple of minutes to get a table. A couple of classic, vintage-styled menus on faux-aged paper were brought over. After we ordered, we took a few moments to enjoy our complimentary tea and take in the top-notch decor.
For its price and accessibility, the ambiance of Tamarind Tree was excellent. Warm maroons and deep oranges colored most of the walls, while wood planks accented the walls and stylish bar. Stone and faux-marble were used for the tabletops while a small, open-gas fire burned happily in a corner. Combined with the various tropical plants and the impressive cascading water structure out front, it seems Tamarind Tree did not leave one detail unattended to when crafting the look and feel of the restaurant interior.
The variety of dishes at Tamarind Tree was impressive and spanned a wide spectrum of options ranging from a healthy, veggie based noodle soups to the considerably more decadent "seven courses of beef" special. We decided to start our meal off with a classic South East Asian starter: the spring roll. Despite its simple design, it's surprisingly hard to truly make a standout spring roll- yet Tamarind Tree succeeds! We opted for the Shrimp Spring Roll ($5) which, as evidenced by the name, comes with a bit of steamed shrimp wrapped with fresh herbs inside a rice wrapper. To add a bit of variety to the mix, a thin smidgen of fried dough with a slightly peanut-y taste was thrown in for good measure; it really adds a bit more texture to the tried and true spring roll recipe. We highly recommend that fans of spring rolls sample these tasty treats for themselves.
For entrees, we went for the Bun Bo Hue ($6.95) and their signature noodle platter, Bun Dac Biet ($8.75). The Bun Bo Hue was a steaming, hot soup, which included tasty pieces of beef, pork and slices of meatball. The noodle quality was also top notch; the only down side was the lurking presence of MSG - make sure to ask for the soup without it if you'd rather avoid it.
The Bun Dac Biet was quite a bit different from what I had in mind after reading the menu description: "[a] combination of skewered grilled pork and chicken, deep fried egg rolls, grilled shrimp on sugarcane, and grilled prawns served with mixed herb fish sauce". Seems straightforward, no? But what arrived can be best described as a small-scale jungle that was quite an adventure to eat. Like the tortillas that come with a fajita plate, my dish came with a small dish of rice paper and a bowl of hot water. The paper is soaked in the water causing it to soften and toughen at the same time. Next, bits of the veggies, meat, and noodles are placed atop the paper. Lastly, the entire ensemble is wrapped up burrito style. It took more than one set of patient instructions from our helpful server to get the procedure down, but afterwards no trace of the Bun Dac Biet was safe. The vast assortment of meats and veggies helped keep the flavors diverse and novel - you won't get bored with this dish. The chicken, in particular, was tasty and well seasoned (but alas, no hint of tamarind). Oily and heavy on the stomach, the egg rolls were the only subpar feature of this dish.
Tamarind Tree has a lot to offer; ambiance, flavors, freshness, and variety. Not only that, but what they offer is among the best in the area. It's one of the easiest Editors Choice awards we've so far given.
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