Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Occasional Vegetarian

Where’s the main dish? First time vegetarians are baffled by the food serving seeing only seemingly side dishes on the plate. I confess it truly takes a good vegetarian meal to impress me. Meat is filling and veggies are mere garnishing.

I admit to being an occasional vegetarian, and why not? It is a lifestyle choice. Be it for body cleansing or a mere alternative in another cuisine, vegetables are truly a healthy choice. Growing up, it seemed to me like a big sacrifice to have meatless days, but with the increasing amounts of research, it is undeniable that going green has a lot of health benefits. So where do I find a good place to get satisfying vegetarian food?

“Vegetarian cuisine like any other cuisine (Italian, French or Thai) is an alternative choice even for gourmets. You don’t have to be Greek to enjoy Greek food, likewise a vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian food.” Sylvie Bruzeau, a vegetarian since 8 years, together with partner Luka Wong created Tamarind Café; enticing the growing healthy population and presenting them with creative and delicious meatless cuisine.

Tamarind Café (Sukhumvit soi 20, Tel: 02 663 7421, open weekdays 3pm-11pm, weekends 10am-11pm) is a quaint, well-lighted, split-level bistro that offers innovative cuisine inspired by the Sylvie’s and Luka’s travels. Growing up in the picturesque Loire Valley, Sylvie picked up fresh home-grown vegetables in their garden. She emulates home cooked meals in creating her dishes.

Freshness is the basic criterion in the kitchen. Ingredients are the best picks of the season, from the different suppliers around Thailand to early morning produce from the Klong Toie market. The kitchen is home to homemade jams, breads, pastas and in-house sauces.

A meal can start with a Tamarind Kiss Cocktail (vodka, fresh tamarind with a dash of orange juice, B190) from the ample-sized bar; or one of the café’s original mixes: rouge cooler (watermelon, lime & mint, B120); velvet underground (beetroot, mango, orange &mint, B150), or carrot spice (carrot, apple, lime & ginger, B150).

Quiche, one of the house favorites (B95/slice), tops the list of 18 appetizers. The Sweet Tropical (B160) is a serving of sliced mangoes and julienne beetroot on a bed of lettuce presented in a wide glass; in a slight whisk of the chive garnish, it is swished into a plate- really neat! Ratatofu is a ratatouille inspired dish; a cube of tofu, topped with zucchini, eggplant, onion and tomato, simmered in a ginger and dill sauce (B130).

All of the best cuisines of the world are represented in the main dish list. Spearheaded by Geng Kyo Wan, a spicy Thai veggie green curry served with glass noodles or rice (B230) and Pad Thai, rice fettuccine with tofu, chive, egg, bean sprout and sweet tamarind sauce (B160). Japanese inspired dish of a selection of 4 types of sushi rolls are “east meets west” creations: mango and homemade pesto; cheese, dill and basil; crispy baby corn, mushroom and Thai basil; and miso-grilled veggies; rolled and presented appetizingly on a wooden board (B350). French cuisine is well represented in a baked dish of cauliflower-asparagus-mushroom-potato-herbs-chili-gratin, smothered in rich béchamel sauce. Italian, of course, is ever present; the baked mushroom lasagna (B350) is a best seller.

A vegetarian feast is always complemented with nice sumptuous desserts. Pies, cakes, puddings and homemade ice creams are worth the calories spared. The chocolate fondue with tropical fruits (B150) is a perfect treat for two.

Open on weekends from 10am-11pm, Tamarind’s all day breakfast is a fancy fair of feel good meals- just what weekends are all about. From colorful omelettes, muffin Benedictines, French toasts, crispy waffles, refreshing trifles to piping hot pancakes, the café is a great place to hang out. With wireless internet access and the latest photo art exhibits, it is just a nice and easy spot to while away the weekend.

Between the pure and simple tofu and the unpretentious taste of fresh crisp garden salads, I must admit I’m considering more regular meals of vegetarian flavors. I’m not ready to give up the pleasures of a grilled lobster or a good piece of Vienner Schnitzel, but Tamarind succeeds in convincing me, a confessed occasional vegetarian, that vegetarian cuisine need not be bland or uninteresting. As Sylvie says, “… we all have to find our own balance in our lifestyles and discover what suits us and live well”.

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