An Italian friend of mine likes to say, “When in Rome, do as the Romanians do.” Over the years, this has encouraged me to seek out sushi in Italy, hamburgers in Shanghai and, most recently, Thai food in San Francisco’s North Beach, the city’s neighborhood with the greatest concentration of Italian restaurants and shops.
This lovely spot has upbeat music piped in as a backdrop for the dramatic, flavor-saturated food, modeled after chef-owner Salisa Skinner’s family cooking in their Bangkok home. Though she went off to study law, then worked for some time in intellectual property, these recipes that infused her consciousness have inspired the menu at Tamarind Hall, a dream for which she quit her day job to realize.
On the walls, giant oil paintings by Skinner’s sister Air invoke a sense of quiet power, which mirrors the food.
There are two ways to go in planning a meal here, equally compelling. One is to make a meal of appetizers, as this section of the menu is large and designed for sharing. Or target the also-generously portioned main courses. We chose the former, simply in order to try more dishes.
We started with yum kai dao, an instant classic: two fried duck eggs topped with homemade chile jam, and house-cured bacon.
Two cocktails paired beautifully with these aggressive, yet integrated, flavors: the Thai mango mojito with Bacardi mango rum, lime juice, soda and fresh mango, and the Siamese g-spot, with Cazadores blanco tequila, St. Germain, and lychee and grapefruit juices. In fact, these drinks go well with the whole menu, especially dishes that contain fish sauce and citrus, which is most of them.
We followed this with the mango salad, a bright, sweet green salad laden with slices of fresh mango, fried onions, cherry tomatoes, and roasted peanuts, topped with sesame-crusted anchovies. This was a good counterpoint for chicken satay, served with a mild (homemade) peanut sauce.
Perhaps the biggest hit of the night, besides the homemade mango sorbet our son ended on, was the e-saan sausage (also homemade), ground pork with lemongrass and chiles, grilled and chopped for easy tucking into crisp iceberg lettuce leaves.
Fried tofu was another big hit, large cubes flash-fried, crispy on the outside and tender-soft inside. The cubes are stacked as a pyramid and sprinkled with sweet chile sauce and shredded nori.
We were too full to consider dessert, but the seven-year-old was not, and he singlehandedly devoured the aforementioned homemade mango sorbet, delightfully presented in a frozen mango half, scooped out, the whole shebang slathered in whipped cream.
Service is attentive and prompt, even when the place starts to fill up around 7pm.