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Happy Hour @ Tamarine in Palo Alto

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Tamarine’s hook for these economic times is 50% off on appetizers for happy hour. Limited to bar seating for the discount, happy hour stretches from 5pm to 6:30pm. Mom and I checked it out for an early dinner on Thursday.

Prices indicated here reflect the happy hour discount. We tried:

Salt & pepper calamari, $6 – The melted spring onions and bits of garlic tossed with the crispy giant squid made this as tasty as ever, but the batter seemed extra hard this time and chewed up the roof of my mouth. The first order out of the kitchen, maybe the oil wasn’t the right temperature. But we happily dipped the critters in the citrus and cilantro dressing and polished it off along with the butter lettuce garnish.

Hokkaido scallops, $6 – The seared scallops were excellent quality, cooked expertly and topped with a bit of tobiko for crunch. Four of these rested on a bed of truffled cream corn pudding. I found the combination much too sweet with the natural sweetness of the scallops getting lost in the sugary corn.

Tea leaf beef, $5.5 – The grilled beef balls wrapped in la lot are almost always my favorite part of the seven courses of beef dinner (Bò 7 món), so it was great to have something similar as a standalone. Five well-seasoned logs combining ground beef and some pork were wrapped in wild tea leaves and grilled. The basting sauce had some kick to it and the fish sauce and lime dipping sauce was just the right cooling counterpoint. I liked this more than my mother did, maybe because it wasn’t overtly sweet, and would order it again.

Summer corn fritters, $4.50 – These brown and crunchy fritters looked like flying saucers. These were almost lacey and completely crisp and brittle, shattering with each bite. In the center, a curled steamed shrimp provided the outline of a cockpit. The dipping sauce for these was much too sugary. The tooth-achingly ultrasweet corn cried out for something zestier. This was my least favorite of our appetizers.

Shrimp cupcakes, $5 – Tamarine’s version of banh khot, these were better than the last time I tried them here. Delicately crisp and golden outside crust with a custardy, coconut interior topped with a small shrimp and dusted with shrimp powder. The dipping sauce was the same as served with the fritters and again too sweet for the coconut flavors in this dish.

To drink, I had a Lemongrass drop cocktail, $12, which was interesting for the first two sips, and then too sweet. On the other hand, my mother found her drip Vietnamese coffee, $4, too strong and needed added sweetener.

The food is a bargain at this price and worth seeking out. Yet, I felt the quality was step below the group dinner I’d enjoyed here last summer. Maybe I erred in choosing too many dishes with a sweet touch. However, reading the starters section of the online dinner menu again, they’re not easy to avoid. The styling is more suitable as a prelude to dinner or to have with a drink than for composing a full meal as we’d tried to do. I’d over-ordered to have something to take to my brother for his meal. Total including tax and tip was $56 and was more than enough to feed three eaters. Extra points to the bartender for packing up our leftovers and sauces so neatly for us.

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Tamarine Restaurant
546 University Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301

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  1. Interesting that you had such a different experience than I did (although we both enjoyed the tea leaf beef). It sounds like they're using a lot of sweet, seasonal corn, which I didn't remember at all from a few weeks ago. I didn't find anything too sweet, either - a personal difference, or has it gotten far sweeter?

    I dined last night at Lavanda, part of the dwindling number of Restaurant Roulette choices, and had a highly mediocre meal. We ate almost entirely off the small plates menu, but few dishes came together well. An example was the nectarine / peccorino / pistachio plate, where the cheese was just on this side of flavorless, instead of in some kind of balance with the nectarines. The wine list was somewhat unimpressive. We usually go half-bottle, and the list is short.

    The lack of attention seemed an economy thing, but without another data point, I can't tell.

    I lack the will today to write an in-depth review, since the entire meal was forgettable, and I can't find a good thread to add on. Please excuse my laziness - at least it'll be findable through the places db.

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    Lavanda
    185 University Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301