The Latest in Asheville Thai Food: Tamarind
It’s time you knew something about me. I have a bit of a Thai food obsession. It’s a slightly open drawer from the desk of my late adolescence that seems to be jammed, or else I can never quite slam it shut. It may have something to do with the fact that I fell in love at a Thai restaurant, and at the same time, I suppose I fell for the restaurant as well. It’s funny now, when I return this decade-old establishment, this first boulder that began the avalanche of my twenties, the food’s not quite as good anymore. I can’t put a finger on it, but although Taste of Thai in Greensboro is still way better than anything one might find in Asheville, it’s not as good as it used to be. Then again, neither am I, probably.
I’m telling you this because I harbor strong feelings of disdain, disappointment, and “how dare they” about Thai restaurants in Asheville. That’s right, all of them. From Wan Pen on Hendersonville Road, the only Thai restaurant truly owned by people who hail from the actual country of this food’s origin, to Jai (or whatever the f it’s called now) to Thai Basil to the take out place on Patton, they are all bad, bad, and very bad. Which is a particular disgrace because the diners of our fine city probably mostly consider themselves connoisseurs of ethnic cuisine. What I’m trying to say is we deserve better.
And we may finally have it. As I have previously explained, some of the best Asian or non-American food in the U.S. can be found in the strip malls of the American South. Asheville real estate prices notwithstanding, any restaurant owner with a brain knows to begin their experiment on the outskirts, and gradually move in to town as the dollars roll in. The owners of Tamarind have wisely done just this. So it’ll be a little drive to Arden, but it will be worth it.
After taking a left off the Arden/airport exit, we turned left at the first light into the latest strip mall on Airport road. A brilliant, expansive mountain sunset greeted us as we drove past the pandemonium at Cracker Barrel, through the mobs at Carrabba’s, and onward to the quiet, near-empty parking lot of Tamarind. If you have ever eaten at Thaicoon in Greenville (also in a stripmall) and loved it, then you are in luck. The family who opened Thaicoon sold it to move to Asheville and open Tamarind, much to my delight. We began with wine (don’t order the savaugnon blanc by the glass, it’s sticky-sweet and does not pair well in my opinion) and had to quell the desire to squeal in sheer ecstacy at the menu offerings. We found: tamarind duck, five-flavor red snapper, sweet basil eggplant, pad woon sen, and of course the requisite pad thai and curry offerings. I pretty much have a standard measurement of all Thai food, which is Tom Kha soup and Red or Panang Curry.
The Tom Kha chicken was good. Not terrific, but definitely not bad. I enjoyed the fresh (not canned) mushrooms, and the chicken was excellent quality, but I would have appreciated more kaffir lime leaf, and more onions. But it was good.
The panang curry earned many points for the myriad fresh vegetables involved. Nowhere in Asheville will you find red peppers, green peppers, onions, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, and broccoli all featured in the curry dishes. However, the sauce was way too thin. My friend ordered the tamarind duck which was crispy sweet, tangy, and delicious, although the meat tasted fatty and a little strong for me. I have not made a final declaration, because I need to return a few more times to get a real sense of the place. Until then, does anyone want to join me at Tamarind?