Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Night of Excellent Indian Cuisine at Tamarind of London - CLOSED

Tamarind of London
7862 E. Pacific Coast Highway
Newport Coast, CA 92657

Writing this blog has taken us to some great restaurants. If it weren't for me writing this, we probably would have never experienced all that we have, and for that I am thankful. Five years ago, before this blog, I was like a lot of people that you know. I ate what I was familiar with, and what was close to me. Even now people still think that it's crazy that we drive forty minutes in rush hour traffic to have dinner, but that's what we do for our readers. All three of you.

We have recently gotten into Indian food. I had Indian food one time in my 20's and was not impressed. We then had it one time during the run of this blog, and liked it a little more. Then Katie's brother suggested an Indian place for his birthday. I kind of felt that he just suggested this to irk his family, who likes to frequent the same four restaurants over and over again. During that visit, I was even more impressed with Indian cuisine. So when we were invited to try Tamarind of London in Newport Coast, I became very excited.

This is one of those restaurants that we probably would have never gone to before this blog. I would have imagined that it would have been too expensive or stuffy due to the area, and that the staff would be too snobby here. Even just being here for five minutes, I could tell that none of this was going to be the case. Tamarind is located in the Crystal Cove Promenade, which is the same shopping plaza as the cougar den, also known as Javier's.

We arrived at Tamarind at 6pm on a recent Wednesday night. The restaurant is split into two parts. One side is the more formal dining room side, and the other side, which is closest to the bar, is more of an open air patio, with a nice and relaxing garden vibe going on. There's a fountain with trickling water, which almost makes you forget that you are just a few feet away from all the cars whizzing past you on PCH. With the ambient music playing over the speakers, this is almost more day spa vibe than restaurant, but then you get a whiff of the great food coming out of the kitchen, and it gets your mouth watering.

We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with Executive Head Chef Imran Ali. He is from Pakistan, and started working in kitchens as a dishwasher and has worked his way up to the head spot in the kitchen. He travels to India yearly to inspire himself, and the cuisine that he creates. I asked him why so many Americans have not embraced Indian cuisine. He felt that many Indian restaurants do not have enough diversity on their menus, and that their items all kind of taste the same. We were very excited to see the wide array of flavors and dishes coming out of his kitchen.

Just like you would get at a Mexican restaurant, here at Tamarind, you will start your meal with their version of chips and salsa. Of course this is a little different. These are Lentil Chips with a trio of chutneys. These chips are also known as Papadam. They were light and crisp, and were made even better when dipped into my favorite chutney, the Apricot and Fennel Chutney. Sweet, but not over the top, it had a great flavor to it.

To start things off for us, Chef Imran sent us out a small plate of Tandoori Appetizers. This sampler plate is not offered on the regular menu, but after we devoured this small plate, we think maybe it should be. This plate included a Grilled Prawn, Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Roganjosh, and a Spiced Masala Potato Croquette. We were asked which one of these was our favorite, and it was a really hard question to answer. The prawn was very meaty and large, the chicken was tender, and the potato had a great spice to it, but my favorite was the lamb. A lot of places tend to over cook their lamb, but that was not the case here. It was definitely fork tender, and had no need for the supplied chutneys.

Of course Tamarind has a full bar, so I tried one of their drinks off of their cocktail menu. I was told that this Tower of London ($12) is their most popular drink, so it was no contest what I was going to order. This martini like beverage starts with Pinnacle Gin, Chase Elderflower, simple sugar, fresh lime, and muddled mint and lime. Very refreshing, and it brought to mind a mojito that I had recently. The lady behind the bar really knows how to put together a well made cocktail.

The food started coming out of the kitchen fast and furious for us now, starting with this Coconut Prawn Curry ($28). Lucky for me Katie is not a fan of prawns, so I had this all to myself. These jumbo prawns were served in a traditional sauce made with coconut milk and ginger. Just like the prawn used in the appetizer, these prawns were very meaty, and the sauce covered them well. The sauce was not spicy, but had more than enough flavor. I finished this dish pretty quickly.

When we chatted with Chef Imran, Katie mentioned that she had the best tasting Biryani when we were in New York City, off of a biryani cart. He sent out this Dumpukht Biryani Rice Casserole ($26) to see how it compares. Katie thought this was even better than the one we had in NYC. It comes to the table sealed in a pastry lid, then is opened right before your eyes by the waiter. Filled with rice, shrimp, chicken, veggies, and lamb, this was total comfort food. We had to let it sit for awhile, because this thing was smoking hot coming out of the kitchen. It was real tasty though, with lots of chopped chicken and plenty of rice. Perfect for the cooler days we have in store for us this winter.

Of course we could not come to an Indian restaurant and not have the classic Indian dish, Chicken Tikka Masala ($26). This version was right up there with some of the best we have had. The sauce was nice and thick, coated the chicken well, and had deep, rich flavor. The chicken was tender, but of course I could have used a whole lot more of it. I'm needy like that.

If we were judging the dishes here, like at the county fair, this would win the blue ribbon as the best dish of the night. When I think of Indian food, I very rarely think of seafood, but this Tandoori Sea Bass was pretty darn special. Charbroiled Chilean sea bass is marinated in a mixture made up of saffron, ginger, and green chili, then served with an apricot curry sauce, and placed on top of a mound of Indian risotto. The result was a buttery and flaky fish, with big burst of flavor in every bite. The risotto was done well, and the apricot curry added just the right amount of sweet. This would be the first item I order on future visits to Tamarind.

A couple of side items rounded out our meal on this night. The Yellow Lentils ($12) might be a main course for some people, but if there's no meat in them, I consider them to be a side item. These were very filling, and the cumin and garlic really made these pop. I'm not really a fan of goat cheese, but the Goat Cheese Naan ($9) was a winner in Katie's book. The naan was not overly stuffed, but you could totally tell it was present. Of course I was more partial to their regular naan, but the cheddar naan caught my eye, and will be the one I order next time.

There's a new pastry chef at Tamarind, the very talented Mark Medina. He's got the job of creating desserts for the menu at Tamarind. Knowing that Americans enjoy sweeter desserts than their Indian counterparts, it's a challenge for him to find the happy median. He hit that mark perfectly with this trio of desserts he brought out for us. There was a traditional rice pudding with pistachios on top, which was paired with a lassi yogurt drink. There was also a sweet honey filled doughnut item that was rolled in pistachios. This was my favorite of the three. The trio was completed with an interesting rose flavored paneer with pomegranate seeds. Not my cup of tea, but I liked the originality of this. Dessert items change frequently, so make sure to ask what is being made that night.

We were lucky enough to be invited into the kitchen to watch our Date Naan being made. The naan tandoori oven gets up to 800 degrees, and the bread is placed on the side, where it browns and bubbles up a bit. The cook then skillfully uses two metal rods to take it from the tandoori oven to the block for cutting. We were pretty full from our meal, so we ate this the next day for breakfast. It was still really fresh, and because of the dates inside, it was almost like having a danish.

On our way out the door, I spotted the Golden Foodie Award that Tamarind proudly has on display by the hostess stand. They won this award for best Indian food back in 2012, and are up for the award again this year. If our experience is any indication, they should be a shoo in to win it this year. We really had a wonderful experience at Tamarind of London on this night. Even though we ate a lot here, this food was not as heavy as other Indian experiences we have had. They are using quality ingredients, prepared the right way.

I left Tamarind a little sad. I wish that more people would give Indian food a shot. I told many people about our experience at Tamarind, and most told me that they do not like Indian food, because they have never had good Indian food. I guess it's not something that we all grew up with, but it's definitely a cuisine that I have learned to like, and I think that after eating at Tamarind most people will become converts to Indian cuisine.

We would like to thank everyone at Tamarind of London for making our visit so pleasurable. From the moment we were welcomed by the hostess stand, to the time we left out the same door, we were treated warmly, and made to feel like family. General Manager Christian was a very gracious host, and answered all of our crazy questions without fail. It was a great honor getting to meet Chef Imran Ali, and learn about the great passion that he has not only for this restaurant, but Indian food in general. His passion definitely is apparent when you see and taste everything that comes out of his kitchen. Lastly, we need to thank our waiter, Frankie. He was on top of his game on this night, and we were never in need of anything for too long. Thanks for everything Frankie.

If this has piqued your interest in Indian food, or you just want more information, go to the Tamarind of London website here:

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