The gestation period for the new restaurant was short, not surprising for an operation conceived on the fly. When the sisters first discussed expansion in early 2019, they envisioned a fast-casual Vietnamese eatery. That script abruptly flipped when they were offered — and accepted — the opportunity to assume Opa's lease in the historic building that housed Miyake for decades. Since the large layout was better suited to a full-service restaurant, they shelved their original idea and created Tam Tam from scratch in a few short weeks.
With Tamarine holding its own just down the street, Hartley and Huynh are presently focused on Tam Tam and its pan-Vietnamese cuisine. Huynh, who serves as executive chef, aims to branch out beyond South Vietnamese cooking, the style most familiar in the U.S.
"Because the large majority of immigrants come from South Vietnam, restaurants tend to exclude dishes from other parts of the country," she said. "There are so many great recipes from the north and central areas. I want my guests to experience these unique and exciting flavors."
Tam Tam furthers Huynh's mission by listing the region of origin for most items on the menu. Huynh hews closely to traditional preparations, though she takes creative license with the occasional dish, most notably the banh khot "cupcakes" ($13), which substitute uni and crab for the classic shrimp filling.
Hanoi-style beef pho ($17) seemed like a solid starting point for testing Tam Tam's inclusiveness initiative. Long a standard bearer of Vietnamese restaurants, the southern-style pho we know is a heaping bowl of slurpable noodles served with bean sprouts and hot sauce. Tam Tam serves a simplified northern version, and it's a revelation. Featuring fresh-made noodles and tender brisket slow-cooked for 24 hours, the beefy broth takes center stage. Hold the hoisin and savor every sip.
The Indian-influenced lemongrass tofu ($22) was a vegetarian delight, melding herbal, citrus and spicy chili seasonings. Divergent flavors were also used to full effect in the seared salmon ($28). The moist, medium-cooked filet stood up nicely to bold ingredients, which included sautéed onion, bell peppers, pineapple, dill and a lovely tamarind sauce. Steamed branzino ($29) was a more subtle entrée, leaning primarily on ginger to enhance the milky taste of the fish. The presentation — the branzino is served whole with a stuffed center cavity — was expertly executed.
Though the oversized cubes of sweet potatoes and carrots in the yellow chicken curry ($22) created a dramatic visual, the vegetables dwarfed the scant portions of lemongrass-infused thigh meat. The ledger soon balanced, however, when our server delivered a hearty poached chicken salad ($14), featuring shredded cabbage and copious pieces of poultry tossed in an exquisite chili-lime vinaigrette with fish sauce.
Central Vietnam, according to Huynh, is a poor section of the country prone to flooding. Flood-tolerant rice is a mainstay in the region and is cleverly incorporated into many ingredients, including the rice flour shell used in Tam Tam's moon crepes ($13). This dish did not quite stick the landing. While I enjoyed the taste and textures of the crunchy outer layer and the soft, savory pork and shrimp filling, the crepes left an excessively oily residue.
Tam Tam offers a satisfying assortment of beer and wine. The light, crisp Saigon Export beer ($6) paired especially well with the spicier fare. Dessert options include coconut pandan cr
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