Tamarind brings London to Newport
A great American restaurant that happens to serve Indian food. That's the philosophy of Tamarind of London.
The Michelin-star restaurant (11 times over) jumped the pond two months ago to open its first U.S. restaurant at the Crystal Cove Promenade on Newport Coast. And when they did, they made some tweaks.
Their website casts their menu as a mix of traditional Indian and "crossover" dishes, but is careful not to go so far as to call it fusion. Think Indian spices with locally available ingredients and produce.
The traditional green saag side dish, for instance, is typically cooked with ginger, garlic and cumin, but the "green" in the dish is almost always spinach (and often frozen spinach at that). Tamarind's Three Greens Saag ($8) is a combination of fresh kale, mustard greens and spinach.
Chef Shachi Mehra, who came from the award-winning Indian restaurant Junnoon in Palo Alto (after training for a month at the flagship Tamarind in London), has also eliminated the heavy cream from the dish. In fact, you will find very little dairy in any of her dishes.
Tamarind also has a lighter hand with spices than Indian food fans might be used to, so that when you bite into a carrot in your curry, you taste the carrot.
If you are not familiar with Indian food, this is a good place to give it a whirl. The menu is user friendly, telling you the ingredients in each dish and at least some of the spices.
The ambiance is comfortable chic: Red leather barstools, mahogany tables, booths. Outside the wall of glass doors in the patio dining room are two gas fire pits. In the summer the doors will open. Both nights I dined there, it was chilly so the doors were shut, but they still kept the heat lamps overhead on, making the room cozy warm.
The centerpiece of Tamarind though is the exhibition kitchen. Walk up and peer through the glass to see flames licking at lamb chops and other meats in the three red ceramic Tandoor ovens. The owner spent $3 million to gut the former Sage on the Coast and turn it into his vision.
It's an upscale restaurant with prices to match, although they do have $6 happy hour drinks. I recommend the signature Blood Orange Gingertini made with fresh squeezed juice and Kettle One orange vodka ($12).
If you do try Tamarind, you must order the New Zealand Lamb Chops ($29). Marinated in green papaya, malt vinegar and chili powder, they are one of a handful of items cloned from the flagship Tamarind back in London, where Indian restaurants are as prevalent as pizza places are here.
The Tandoor ceramic ovens, shaped like barrels, are heated to 700 degrees for the meats, cooking the chops in as little as 7 minutes from the radiant heat, which locks in the juice and flavor. They were amazing.
All of the kebabs are also cooked in the Tandoor ovens. Huge chunks of salmon ($21), marinated in lime leaf, cilantro and olive oil, melt like butter in the mouth. While the fish was fresh and moist, both times I tried it, it's one dish that I thought could have used a little more flavor.
I also tried the Tandoori Chicken Kebab ($20), marinated in yogurt, mustard oil and black salt. The chunks of chicken, while juicy and tender, arrive rather lonely, so it is best to order accompaniments, such as the Raita Duo ($6), a collection of mint raita, avocado raita and three chutneys made from cranberry, green papaya and garlic chili.
A must is the Goat Cheese Naan ($6). Tamarind has more traditional naans, stuffed with things like dates. But this twist is brilliant, like an Indian version of the quesadilla. A slathering of tangy Sonoma chevre is melted inside the bread, which is sprinkled with scallions and cracked black pepper for a spicy kick.
Tamarind's naan is a fairly fluffy, chewy version. Their recipe for the traditional Indian bread has a bit of yeast in it, I was later told. It is cooked in one of the Tandoor ovens and arrives at the table warm.
Another one of my favorite dishes is the Tofu Vegetable Curry ($16). The veggies, whole miniature carrots, peas and fresh string beans among them, are cooked al dente and swimming in a delicious stew of tomato, curry, coconut, tamarind (a tart fruit), lime, green chilies and spices.
Tamarind also has a house salad ($9). You won't find leafy green salads on many Indian menus, but the dressing, made with lime, mango and red chili, tastes very Indian and very good, both sweet and spicy. Died rice flakes, which are typically eaten like a snack, are fried with curry leaves, salt and sugar and then sprinkled on top of the baby lettuce mix along with pomegranate seeds.
The menu has a lot of appetizers for sharing. Chickpea Chaat ($9), which would be considered a roadside snack in India and reminds me of a 5-layer Mexican dip. The chickpea is mashed with a masala (in this case a blend of 13 spices), and then layered with wheat crisps, a sweet yogurt, a tart tamarind chutney and a mint chutney. Fresh blueberries are dropped on top.
For dessert one night I tried the Coconut Rice Pudding ($7), dressed up with Frangelico and a caramel made from jaggery, an unrefined brown palm sugar used in India. It arrives chilled in a glass sprinkled with toasted coconut flakes.
The menu will change seasonally, so check the website.
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