Monday, August 10, 2009

TAMARINDO ANTOJERIA - Mexican Tapas in the heart of Old Oakland

Several years ago now, this little gem opened up deep in the heart of what we now call Old Oakland. I do not know the story of its inception firsthand, and so cannot attest to the truth of it, but it goes something like this --- the son or daughter of the cook set her up in this place so she could "do what she does best" and provide her home-cooked treats for the world at large.

To whatever degree that is true, whoever talked this woman into cooking for the world-at-large, did us all an enormous favor. Whether or not she is any one's mother (and I'm guessing she is), she cooks everything "con amor" with pronounced and incredible attention to detail of flavor.

I have been enjoying the rewards of this family's decision to open their restaurant in Oakland for years. I wholeheartedly recommend you do as well. On this particular occasion, my BH and I were starving , so we ordered a lot. The plates are small, and I actually prefer it that way, as it allows for a wider range of pleasures. I would prefer to share tapas-style mini-plates over large plates any day. The more I can sample at any one sitting, the better. If you prefer large plates, they do have those too.

We began with the guacamole. This is creamy, blended, fresh and subtly spiced. Nothing overwhelms the flavor of the avocado, yet it is neither bland nor too spicy. It is the perfect guacamole. Followed shortly by the daily ceviche. This dish changes daily (although it usually is a perfection of shrimpy goodness), as it must be made with the freshest of ingredients.

The shrimp version pictured here, is my favorite ceviche. It is, like everything here, in a word fresh. Fresh flavors, fresh ingredients. Consistently a perfect blend of dressing and fish that never has that fishy taste that has kept me off ceviche in the past. How far I've come since I scarfed down my first sushi plate of raw tuna.. but that's another story.

After we downed our ceviche we shared several plates of their one-of-a-kind mini dishes. The first we had was new. It is the Tostaditas de Tinga Poblana, which the menu describes as small tostadas with black beans, chipotle chicken, cabbage, fresh avocado and crema (cream). Being new to the menu, we hadn't tried these yet, but frankly, this place has yet to make a misstep.

This dish was no exception. The flavors were new too, with the smoky sensibilities of the chipotle complementing the light creamy barbeque sauce that the chicken was seated nicely atop. My BH was worried that it might be too spicy, but the owner is fairly careful about leaving the heat of the spice to the peppers. (One can order a delicious assortment of hot roasted peppers here, from jalapeno, serreno to habanero and they are very good about warning you about those habanero). If one likes the spice, on request they will provide a delicious assortment of home made salsa that will heat up any dish nicely.
The food is nothing if not consistent, and we have found that the dishes that we
love never fail to replicate the good memories we have of them. That which bears repeating is always repeated to perfection. Our repeats today were the mulita, and the Tacos de Cameron. The mulita is a beef and cheese tostada sandwich. It is simple and really good. Slices of steak broiled and sliced, served between two home-made corn tortillas and covered in melted cheese. A meat-lover's delight. After the mulita we had the tacos de cameron, which are a shrimp taco. Perfectly prepared, these are fresh and tasty as well.

The shrimp taco is pictured below. The shells are deep fried and filled with fresh shrimp cooked and dressed with a light shredded lettuce and tomato salad, topped off with grated cheese.

We didnt' have it today, but when it's on the menu, the corn soup here may be the best creamed corn soup in the world. (Although Pican's corn soup with chunks of bacon in it is a pretty strong contender). The Tamarindo corn soup is delicate and perfectly balanced. It is like eating a soft, yellow cloud.
One last mention, they serve a drink here, agua fresca. The drink changes flavors daily, usually they offer tamarindo (tamarind), pineapple, watermelon and cucumber. I have had all but the tamarind (though it is the restaurant's namesake, I'm just not a fan). My favorite is the pineapple, but all the agua fresca are really good. Agua fresca is mostly water, with the "essence" of the fruit or other ingredient blended in. Maybe a 10% mix? Hard to tell, but the muddled fruit addition to the water makes it incredibly refreshing, without being overly sweet or overwhelming.
Definitely a place worth checking out. They are open for lunch every day but Monday.
Bon Appetit!
Tamarindo Antojeria
468 8th Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Price: Moderate to Expensive (tapas always depends on quantity ordered. Dishes range $10-12 approximate)
Dining Time: a bit lengthy for lunch, but not terribly so. Staff is responsive so if in a crunch, just let them know
Table size: cramped. Not enough space for dishes.

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