Lunch for One: Tamarind Tea Room

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[Photo: Kathy YL Chan]

The best seat for one at Tamarind Tea Room, sister to the fine dining restaurant Tamarind next door, is the corner spot near the window. It's a small, narrow dining room, seating less than twenty, a calm vibe in the air even when fully packed with diners. The menu is split into sandwiches, Indian sweets and specialties, and tea. You're best off with the "Tea for One", priced at $16, which allows you a choice each of tea, sandwich and sweet. There are just over a dozen options of tea, ranging from Ceylon Orange Pekoe to nilgiri and chai. I most often end up choosing chai, which only feels right in this setting. Teapot, cup and saucer, milk, brown sugar cubes and honey. If they just had a recliner, I'd lean back after the tea and take an afternoon nap!

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But that's after eating the sandwich, of course. Tamarind's "sandwiches" are really naan wraps, served with a side of salad. Certainly not the most photogenic, but of significantly better than quality than naan wraps found at more casual places in the city like Kati Roll and Liebe. The options are vegetarian friendly, with nearly half the choices meat-free. These include combination of roasted eggplant with cumin seeds and a spicy apple chutney, or a garlicky saag paneer.

Tandoor Salmon is my go-to. Warm naan is brushed with mustard dressing, finely chopped cabbage layered tight with vinegar-marinated onions and the caper-dotted salmon. A well-balanced wrap—my only quibble is that the salmon was cold. If you're going deliver the naan itself warm, make sure the salmon inside isn't ice-cold! To accompany, there's a bowl of housemade raita for dipping. The bite-and-dip, bite-and-dip method got a pretty messy with raita and mustard dressing dripping down my wrists, so I ended up spooning the raita over the wrap and making it a fork and knife affair.

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For sweets, pick between the Rice Pudding or Payasam. I prefer the latter, a chilled vermicelli-based pudding with a touch of saffron and chopped almonds, caramelized for a sweet, smoky note. Each spoonful bears a tangle of the thin, slippery smooth noodles, bathing in a sweet thick bath of milk and sugar, hinting of cardamon as well. Served cold, an appropriate close to the meal. A shortbread trio (raspberry, lemon, and almond) delivered with the pudding is forgettable at best. They were dry and dusty, best left alone.

Overall? With a tea and sandwich menu that diverse, I could return more than few times, always for a new dish. Service is slow, but it's the sort of lunch spot you can linger for quite awhile with no rush from the waitstaff.

Tamarind Tea Room

41-43 East 22nd Street, New York NY 10010 (map)

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