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Tamarind Tree - gone downhill

a
akq Jul 14, 2008 10:25 AM

This weekend my SO and I went to TT - one of our favorite places for inexpensive, tasty vietnamese food. We hadn't been there for a few months and were really looking forward to it. We had to wait about 15 mins for a table (no problem) and were asked if we wanted to sit outside. Normally I'd say no, except that it was a very pleasant summer evening and inside ther resto was very loud. Turned out to be a big mistake - outside was even louder than inside due to the extremely loud waterfall and the large groups yelling over said waterfall's noise. Oh well.
It took about 5 mins to get menus, then another 15 mins to place our order - egg rolls, spicy seafood soup and hanoi pork platter, plus a guava martini for me (on the drinks menu, guava martini is gin, guava juice and lime juice). After about 10-15 mins, a runner drops off SO's noodles. Then about 5 mins later someone else drops off the egg rolls....and we wait and wait and wait for my food. Finally it comes out about 10 mins later - so a good 20-25 mins AFTER my SO's entree. Hmm. I told the waitress that I hadn't gotten the rice paper wrappers for my entree and my drink had never arrived. She told me that the hanoi pork platter doesn't come with wrappers and "have you ever ordered that here before?" In fact, I have ordered it - it's one of my favorite things on the menu and I've always gotten the wrappers with it. She says she will "bring the wrappers out for [me] anyway" in an extremely condescending tone. So a few minutes later I get my wrappers and the martini.
Martini is rimmed with what I assume to be sugar, so I lick a bit of it off and take a sip of my drink. Immediately my entire mouth begins to burn - my lips burn, my tounge burns - I am kind of freaking out because I cannot figure out what's going on...I wait for it to subside but it doesn't - I've completely burned my lips and tounge somehow...

I realize that maybe it's the drink - I look closer but no, it's just normal looking sugar or salt on the rim. I take another small lick and the burning starts again! What???
I ask my SO to try it and he confirms that there is something MEGAHOT in the salt on the rim (he LOVES hot things but this was overthetop, especially if you aren't expecting it because you ordered a sweet fruit cocktail). I flag the waitress down and she says - oh yeah, it's spicy salt. Umm, okay, but there was no mention of it anywhere on the menu, it's not so much spicy as MEGAHOT and it doesn't look any different than normal salt...she says, oh, if you don't like it, I can bring you one without it. Great, but that doesn't take the pain away - my lips and tounge hurt for the rest of the night.

All in all, the food was just okay, the service was horrible, and hiding something that hot in a sweet fruity cocktail is ridiculous. TT has been one of my favs for the last few years but I am in no hurry to return. Sheesh.

  1. c
    christy319 Jul 15, 2008 09:35 AM

    That sounds like a bad night. I have to say, though, I've never had good service at TT (and I've been many times). They've always been slow, always brought dishes out at different times (never 25 minutes different though), forgotten drink orders...I also don't think their cocktails are good at all (I don't think they have a real bartender, just someone who follows drink recipes). But I do like their food. The only place I get great service anywhere in the ID is the place that I'm a regular. Someone suggested Made in Kitchen but the last time I went there, the waitress was late, so all the patrons just sat there, ignored by the host who could have taken our order, with no food or service until she showed up (1/2 hour later). Luckily Green Leaf is so small that it's easy to snag a server if you need one but honestly, I don't think the service would be good there otherwise--they aren't attentive, just easy to flag down.

    10 Replies
    1. re: christy319
      barleywino Jul 15, 2008 11:22 AM

      yeah the servers at Made in Kitchen can be lazy and negligent although they're usually not rude. My worst experience there was getting some takeout and finding a sharp shard of crockery in the takeout box. The manager did comp my next meal fwiw. My best experience there was ordering some port and getting, not the usual 2oz pour, but an entire wine glass!

      1. re: barleywino
        c
        christy319 Jul 15, 2008 02:25 PM

        Since indifferent service seems to be the rule in the ID, this gets me wondering, is there a cultural difference going on? In the same way that service in France and Italy is quite different than the US, is there something about service at Asian restaurants that I just don't get?

        1. re: christy319
          k
          kirkj Jul 15, 2008 07:13 PM

          There is no more an "Asian" culture as there is a "Europran" culture. Let's be clear that the International District is made up of many cultures. It would be a mistake to attribute indifferent service to even one of those cultures. Certainly you aren't saying that US restaurants have a culture of good service, are you?

          1. re: kirkj
            c
            christy319 Jul 16, 2008 09:48 PM

            American restaurants have a VERY different customer service type culture than, as I stated for example, restaurants in France or Italy(which are not alike either, but both are different than the US). That doesn't mean that either is better or worse, but there are differences you need to understand when you go to those countries, in order to understand, say, why your server won't bring you your bill unless you flag them down, or why they don't check on you every ten minutes. So, I'm asking if there are similar things you need to understand when you go to Vietnamese or Chinese restaurants. For example, food coming at different times, like the OP described--that happens regularly at TT and GL, and I have no idea if this is bad service or if there's something about Vietnamese dining I don't know.

            1. re: christy319
              h
              HungWeiLo Jul 16, 2008 10:22 PM

              It's definitely a cultural thing. In America, waitstaff is considered rude if they don't come and check on you halfway during your meal. If you tried to do that in most other places (Europe or Asia), people would consider that unnecessary and intrusive to the dining experience. Maybe Americans go out to eat primarily for the pampering experience of being waited on, while people in other parts of the world go out to eat for the food? For example - keep in mind that in many parts of Asia, people who can afford to eat out in anything nicer than neighborhood joints probably have domestic helpers / maids at home. Therefore, people go out for the experience of the food, not so much the service.

              I've been told that in Vietnam (and I think India also), bringing the check to your customer is a shameful thing to do. Therefore, it must be done at the request of the customer. And only then will it be done in a theatrically hesitant way. (Of course, this is not the extreme that Vietnamese restaurants take it in America).

              Re: food coming at different times - since Asian food is typically served family style, it's normal for different dishes to arrive at approximately the time when the dish that was just served previously would have been sampled and done with. Of course, this style of serving doesn't work very well with the American style of individual servings and dishes. Or they could just be very busy and could care less if you get to start eating together at the same time.

              I guess what I'm trying to say is - I eat in the ID for the food, and not for the service.

          2. re: christy319
            barleywino Jul 15, 2008 09:01 PM

            it may be more of an age thing-- the younger servers are just punching the clock and don't seem to care (maybe tips are not good), while the more senior staff who might be co-owners or part of the owner's family can be very helpful and friendly at times.

        2. re: christy319
          a
          akq Jul 15, 2008 03:03 PM

          I have only been to Green Leaf once - I thought the food was okay, the place was too small but the service was great. We were seated right by the door and it was winter - people waiting for tables would prop the door open and stand in the doorway letting the cold air in - it was freezing. The waiter noticed that we had our coats on and were freezing and moved us to closer to the kitchen when another party left - we didn't even have to ask to be moved. Very nice. Other CH's have said that I should go back and try some different dishes, which I might do...except is it always crowded at dinner time? It's pretty tight in there.

          1. re: akq
            k
            kirkj Jul 15, 2008 07:01 PM

            GL has added an upstairs, so the space is doubled. Go back!

            1. re: akq
              h
              HungWeiLo Jul 16, 2008 10:13 PM

              I think Green Leaf has excellent service (for an ID place) and its food is definitely better than TT. (Although they're both not my very favorite places)

              1. re: HungWeiLo
                o
                oliveoyl Jul 20, 2008 07:43 PM

                I'll second or third the service at Green Leaf ... I eat there with some frequency and have always had friendly, prompt service ...even on super busy nights. Quite possibly the most earnest waitstaff in the ID.

          2. Papa Kip Chee Jul 14, 2008 04:03 PM

            I have been to Tamarind Tree a number of times, but find Green Leaf, one block away, much more to my liking.

            -Kris

            3 Replies
            1. re: Papa Kip Chee
              d
              dagrassroots Jul 15, 2008 03:06 AM

              I too, like green leaf better but to suggest one bad experience means a restaurant has gone downhill is IMO not fair.

              1. re: dagrassroots
                k
                kirkj Jul 15, 2008 07:12 AM

                I think its more than one bad experience. We've been going there (not regularly) since they opened and their service was never good. We go for the food, but we do Green Leaf much more often than TT.

                1. re: dagrassroots
                  a
                  akq Jul 15, 2008 11:12 AM

                  Point taken. However, I'd been reading and hearing about this phenomenon for some time and always stood up for TT. Until now. I am fairly easy-going but this experience was truely awful and they had so many chances to turn it around...but it just kept getting worse. I was so bummed about the whole experience that I'd consider not going back - which is a huge departure from my love of TT up until now.

              2. jencke Jul 14, 2008 11:12 AM

                I've never been to Tamarind Tree...thanks for the heads-up.

                1. barleywino Jul 14, 2008 10:56 AM

                  maybe you would have better luck at Made in Kitchen...their service can be inattentive but at least they have a good attitude, usually

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: barleywino
                    a
                    akq Jul 14, 2008 01:23 PM

                    Thanks for the suggestion! I've been to Made in Kitchen once and enjoyed it - we were there about 1/2 hour before closing but they insisted that they were still open for dinner and were very gracious throughout and insisted that we not rush. Very pleasant. A little more expensive than TT, though, but still very reasonable.

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