Chef’s Quyhn and Nhi’s modern Vietnamese menus are cleverly balanced, with a gentle rhythm between strong and subtle flavours uniting both colour and texture. The stylish dining room is so warm and embracing, it's hard not to think you're in a cocoon.
Tamarine by Quynh Nhi
This sleek and urban-chic downtown hot-spot has a sophisticated palette and an upscale mix of contemporary Asian-inspired motifs, art, cuisine and ambiance. Chefs Quynh and Nhi combine the freshest ingredients with traditional flavours to create a unique menus designed to promote communal dining. Long Phan is your charming and knowledgeable host.
From a design perspective, the attention to detail is carried through in many small but striking ways such as the design of the cutlery and dishes, seasonal exotic floral arrangements and the various choices of seating arrangements. The mosaic tiles around the bar have a chameleon-like ability to change into a myriad of palettes, creating a swanky, sexy cocktail lounge vibe with a colour changing remote control. Lighting can also be adjusted to set the mood particularly in the far end of the dining room, where private booth seating provides an intimate and comfortable dining experience.
The food at Tamarine is more sophisticated and pushes culinary boundaries without breaking the tenets of traditional South Vietnamese cuisine. The flavours are multi-faceted and subtle and the dishes have plenty of visual appeal. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour.
The cooking is delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of India.
The signature Crispy Spring Roll at Tamarine is made with chicken, pork, or a vegetarian version served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The restaurant is also known for its crispy Torpedo Rolls, made with shrimp and crispy Imperial Rolls with shrimp, pork, wood ear (a type of fungi) and glass noodles, which are also served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The Vietnamese use fish sauce to enhance the flavour of their foods, much the same way we use table salt, and it pretty much goes with everything.
Compared with its cousin, the egg roll, the spring roll is smaller, with much less filling. (Phan tells me that the “spring roll” is all about quality, not quantity). However, the terms “spring roll” and “egg roll,” like “spring roll” and “fresh roll,” are often used somewhat interchangeably and incorrectly. It can be quite confusing.
Fresh rolls are referred to by several different names, including “salad roll,” “fresh spring roll,” and “summer roll.” Sometimes the word “Vietnamese” is added at the beginning of these words; for example, “Vietnamese roll” or “Vietnamese spring rolls.” It has been my experience that on the North American west coast, many restaurants refer to fresh rolls as “crystal rolls,” “soft rolls,” or “salad rolls.” Fresh rolls are easily distinguished from similar rolls in that they are not fried and that the ingredients used are different from (deep-fried) Vietnamese egg rolls.
“Spring rolls” take their name from the freshness of the spring season with all the seasonal ingredients, and frying would, of course take away that element. At Tamarine, they offer fresh Spring Rolls with a choice of barbecued chicken or shrimp, vermicelli, crispy pastry heart, fresh mint, lettuce, and sprouts, all rolled in soft rice paper and served with peanut sauce.
Tamarine also has its own version of Pad Thai. Although it is the national dish of Thailand and has been known in various incarnations for centuries, the dish is thought to have been introduced to Thailand by Vietnamese traders. Tamarine’s version is a choice of wok-tossed chicken or beef with rice noodles and bean sprouts, finished with a spicy tamarind sauce and cilantro lime, and garnished with crushed peanuts.
“Tamarine is a second-generation restaurant. It is our interpretation of how Vietnamese food has evolved,” says Long Phan. “Our food is as symbolic as it is traditional. You can be anywhere in the world and authentically showcase our heritage with our cuisine.” The cooking remains delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of both China and India.
No words can describe the atrocities that Vietnamese “boat people” suffered when they decided to flee their homeland in crudely built boats, sparking an international humanitarian crisis. When Quynh and Nhi’s father Tan Pham wanted a better future for his family the authorities caught wind of it his first attempt to escape the country landed him 20 months of hard labour in jail. Subsequent attempts yielded him no promises to get him where he wanted to go. In 1990, he escaped Vietnam literally with the shirt on his back and that was the price he was willing to pay for a better future for his family. At that time there was no possible future for his family it was either poverty or death. The survivors sometimes languished for years in refugee camps. More fortunate ones were taken in by countries like Canada.
It has been a long journey for the family to get where it is now but adversity instilled a solid work ethic and team spirit that is evident in how they operate their restaurants. After making a name for herself at the Trail’s End Market with her hand-rolled, high quality spring rolls and stir fry’s, Du Bui (Quynh and Nhi’s mother who has always been in charge of quality) parlayed her signature spring roll eventually into what her son-in-law, Long Phan refers to as “the birth of two restaurants.”
Wrapping spring rolls in lettuce leaves and including fresh herbs in the bundles is a vestige of the original civilizations that existed before the centuries of Chinese influence in Vietnam, and is practised with delicacy at both Quynh Nhi and Tamarine.
For well over a decade the family-run, Quynh Nhi Restaurant, has developed a loyal following and prospered off the beaten path in a 40- seat premises that it shares with an auto repair garage at the corner of Wharncliffe and Riverside. Named after siblings Quynh and Nhi, the restaurant is a family run business operated by their extended family.
118 Dundas Street,
519 601 8276
55 Wharncliffe Road North