Tara Thai & Japanese Cuisine: A Family Affair
3026 E. Commercial Blvd
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
“Mom and Pop” establishments are perhaps the essence of dining out, offering intimate dining rooms, and a sense of teamwork, evident in the dishes. Tara Thai & Japanese Cuisine has much more than mom and pop!
The small sushi bar is manned by Chef K who trained in Washington, D.C. Sitting at the counter was rewarding – we soon met his wife, mother, and father.
“After high school,” says the young, hip Chef K, “I didn’t want to go to college or cooking school.” His mother assured us though, that he was accepted at several prestigious institutions.
Chef K prepared a bow roll, filled with buttery, spicy tuna, topped with crab, a light mayo dressing, and trimmed with fish egg. Beautiful colors on this dish – especially the pink crab flesh, draped over the outer layer of white rice. A little spice hits, at the end of each bite. Chef K encouraged my friend and colleague Brian Swinford to eat sushi with his hands, as they do in Japan.
Next came a fresh roll – these refreshing, salad, rice noodle wraps are an old favorite. This one had a minty sort of flavor, thanks to the Thai basil mixed into the greens. The chili sauce was light, sweet, without overpowering the herbal balance.
Tara Thai curry puffs were reminiscent of samosa, stuffed with minced, chicken, and potato. The curry is used more as flavoring – very subtle and tangy as opposed to spicy. For a fried pocket of flavor these were very light. Siam dumplings were also chicken-based. Their satisfying density is surprising, and the flavor simple – as these are best enjoyed dipped into the sweet soy sauce.
We knew Tara Thai would make many wonderful selections we told them to give us half portions, to taste all their favorites. When our next dish arrived we were shocked it was a half portion. Although Chef K’s wife Bo said with a laugh, “Yes, in Thailand the regular portion is smaller than our half.”
This pad Thai has a thick sauce, clinging to the noodles. The peanut sauce is almost inside the noodles, nothing runny at all! The peanuts are there – not chunky – but not pure liquid and express a firm, delicate reminder of texture. Ours came with shrimp. Many versions use cold shrimp and hope warming lights above and heat from noodles below will freshen them up – not Chef K’s mother Rattana, her shrimp are very fresh.
“I always won awards for my pad Thai at our restaurant in Washington,” said Rattana. The family is very gay friendly, perhaps because their D.C. enterprise was located off of DuPont Circle – the LGBT hub of our capitol.
Rattana’s other dish Thai traditional panang curry, came to us with tender pieces of chicken, slivers of bell pepper, floating in a coconut milk sauce which was not too sweet, and let the lemongrass subtly stand out. Some versions come out looking like condensed milk, and just as sweet. Instead, dots of red curry floated elegantly against the golden-cream sauce in which the chicken was presented.
Chef K astounded us with his dynamite roll – playfully presented on forks, and a wonderful selection of tuna and salmon sashimi. However, he offered something I’ve never had. Sweet Japanese shrimp, called simply shrimp on the sushi and sashimi menu. These – unlike standard, I presume farmed shrimp – can be served raw. They have a texture like custard, yet still give a sweet, pleasurable bite.
Rattana said since opening eight months ago, her traditional Thai dishes are praised for their authentic simplicity. Yet, smiling at her son, said some diners come in only for sushi and have not left until all of Chef K’s creations are sampled.
We only were able to stay for lunch…or else, maybe we would have done the same.
For more information please visit, TaraFlorida.com