By David Minsky
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We comparison shoppers know we're in trouble when we find ourselves line-reading, in the latest issue of Consumer Reports, a story detailing the relative pros and cons of gastric bypass versus gastric banding versus liposuction. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a bit buxom after the holidays, and the idea of stapling my stomach into a thimble-sized pouch no longer seems entirely out of the question. I'm not sure if it was the full gallon of homemade limoncello that put me over the edge or the six-pound Venus of Willendorf statuette made entirely of dark chocolate complete with massive, realistically detailed derrière but in retrospect, I'm wishing I'd at least offered to share them with somebody. As it happens, the only calories I expended during the 36 days between Advent and the end of Kwanzaa were in swatting away the hands of people who threatened my food supply. The chocolate Venus has dwindled down to a mouthful of crumbs at the bottom of a cellophane wrapper, but her memory lives vibrantly on in the vision of my own ass in the mirror.
January brings its reckonings, of course, not least the disheartening news from Ann Coulter that Kwanzaa really began as a sinister, 1960s-era FBI plot to discredit the political left. Nobody, her theory goes, could possibly take seriously a group of people who wanted to celebrate their ancient heritage and culture by cooking special foods, singing old songs, decorating their houses, and exchanging gifts. That's why I'm sitting in front of a beautiful green papaya salad at the moment. I too have my days of reckoning, and I want them at least to taste good. Coulter may have debunked Kwanzaa, but she can't suck the sweetness out of my Tamarind.
Tamarind Asian Grill and Sushi Bar is a Thai/Japanese restaurant in Deerfield Beach. It's named for an African tree that, after years of lively trade, gave the world the ugly, sausage-shaped pod that forever changed the cuisines of Asia and South America. We also have the tamarind tree to thank for the Worcestershire sauce in our bloody marys. Tamarind the restaurant sometimes serves the fresh pods for dessert when they're in season. Tamarind is a strange fruit: To get at the good stuff, you break open the pod and scrape out the sweetish sour pulp, which you then either suck between your teeth, mush around to make tamarind water, or boil into a dark-brown syrup. It's one of the principal ingredients that makes Thai food taste like Thai food, although the folks at Tamarind Asian Grill, as I soon learn, won't tell you exactly what ingredients go into any dish even if you beg. It's always "a secret."
949 S. Federal Highway
Deerfield Beach, FL 33441
Region: Deerfield Beach
Anyway, there are 12 reasons I've come to Tamarind, and none of them has anything to do with Ann Coulter. They all have a lot to do with the scary, looming vision of radical surgery if I don't get my act together, remove the last of the Christmas cookies from my immediate vicinity, and start eating some vegetables. Here are the reasons, in no particular order:
(1) The papaya salad ($6.95). A salad to make you forget your gruesome obsession with a chocolate Venus. It's made with shredded green papaya, a fruit textured halfway between al dente pasta and zucchini, with a greeny, vegetal flavor all its own (nothing remotely like the sweeter ripe papaya.) The fruit is thoroughly coated with a dressing made of garlic, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, cherry tomatoes, and very hot chilies, all mashed together with some chopped peanuts and tossed with a couple of cooked shrimp (Thais generally use dried shrimp, but in a concession to American tastes, the ones at Tamarind are fresh). A few halved cherry tomatoes, some green peas, and shreds of carrot and you've got a salad that is simultaneously cold, sour, sweet, crunchy, and delicate in ideal proportions. It's also hot enough, from all those chilies, to work as a kind of scourge. You are a hideous glutton. This is your punishment.
(2) The shape of our waitress. Like many Thai women, she is petite, deft, charming, polite, solicitous. She looks ridiculously trim and pulled together in her tailored black pants and red shirt, hair gracefully knotted. You know just by looking at her that it would never occur to her to sit down and devour a chocolate Venus of Willendorf all by herself.
(3) Thai hot and sour soup ($4.95, made from a "secret family recipe"). Who knows what the hell's in it? But as a detox and diuretic, I promise you, it's unsurpassed. I could detect the following ingredients: sliced boniato (sort of like a watery sweet potato, flavored vaguely like celery), cabbage, shrimp, tomato, bean sprouts of some sort, lemongrass, and hot green chilies in a broth so slurpable that you'll never miss the calories. Drink a bowl of this stuff daily and say lah gòrn ("so long!") to your plastic surgeon.
(4) Thai dumplings ($6.25). Another secret recipe from "ma-ma." Painstaking surgery reveals them to be filled with ground chicken breast mixed with minced shrimp, bound together with, I'm guessing, garlic and lime juice, and this stuffed into a paper-thin rice wrapper. Then the whole thing is steamed. They come with an enigmatic brown dipping sauce that may or may not contain tamarind. It tastes like it does, though.