Dishin’: Big Rules and Little Clams at Tamarind Tree

Several years ago, we gave up on Tamarind Tree after some absurdly inept service (dishes came out of order – or didn’t come at all – and the waitstaff were cold), enjoying instead the consistent sweetness and goodness of Green Leaf. But in a moment of unfaithfulness, after hearing recent rave reviews, we decided to give TT another try.

Its elegance, extensive menu, and excellent eats are making TT the talk of the town. So much so that we offer a survival guide to getting in and getting a good table.

The place is a mob scene, especially on weekends, so make a reservation. But you can’t call, unless you want to stay more than two hours (we assume at some extra charge). TT insists you go online at least 24 hours ahead of your desired day of dining. If within two hours of your reservation your number of guests changes, or if you don’t show up, they charge ten dollars per person. (We’re not sure how they collect this money.) Make sure at least half your party is present to get seated, and know you’ll lose your reservation if you’re more than ten minutes late. Got all that?

You’ll have to choose your table online, so note that N1-N6 are outside, even in winter (there are heat lamps, though). Definitely avoid tables 31 and 51, as the waiting masses will crowd (and perhaps salivate on) you. And don’t get us started on the payment policies. Such rules at a little Vietnamese restaurant? Well, we don’t entirely blame them… they’re successful. And, truth be told, the service has improved. We even got the servers to smile.

And everything was delicious. For starters, we ate something called Baby Clams Rice Cracker. Lots and lots and lots of little clams (we believe they’re shijimi, sometimes found in miso soup) marinated with onions, garlic, chili pepper, fresh herbs, and roasted peanuts – all for scooping on a rice cracker and topping with a punchy pineapple anchovy sauce. Behold the spectacle. But act fast. We almost forgot to add the sauce, as so many more dishes (still arriving out of order), most with accompanying plates of sauces and herbs, made their way to the table, creating chaos.

Scrumptious chaos. We’ll return to Tamarind Tree. But we’ll play by our own rules, ordering at our own pace, item-by-item, to avoid the rush (and perhaps find out the penalty for staying more than two hours).

Originally posted at Seattlest (where “we” = me) on January 14, 2008. In breaking news, Tamarind Tree’s owner Tam Nyugen will be opening a new restaurant called Long (pronounced laong, which is Vietnamese for dragon) in the old Qube space early next year.

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