Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tamboo should not be considered taboo

Having received first-hand accounts filled with praise for Tamboo Bistro, located on Main Street in Brockton, MA, one wonders if this city’s downtown area, notorious for its lack of culinary flair, is undergoing an upscale transformation. Tamboo, after all, signifies the rhythm of life, and its owners hope to emulate this by serving an eclectic array of both New American and Haitian fare. In the infamous words of Gloria Estefan (and who could omit the accompanying Miami Sound Machine), is Tamboo’s “rhythm going to get me” or will it disappointingly fall flat according to Paul’s Palate?

Location-wise, Tamboo resides at the beginning of Main Street, which resembles a ghost town mid-week, with its empty sidewalks and emptier nearby buildings that remain vacant. Clearly, this is not as bustling an area as initially thought. The restaurant is shockingly devoid of customers upon our arrival, thereby enabling us to meander to the bar area and admire the sleek décor. Clearly, owner Chrismin Charlot has infused a great deal of money renovating this space. From its space-lit entry, to its ultra-modern, hip interior - which includes stylish tables, funky walls, Haitian artwork, mood lighting, and a futuristic bar/lounge area – one feels transported several years ahead in time, if not at least into one of the classy, sophisticated dining scenes found in Boston. The establishment is spotless with the exception of small morsels that stand out on its carpeted entryway.

At the bar, we ogle a wide-ranging variety of cocktails, which are even broken out into categories such as a Sexy list (don’t ask me, just try them). After sipping on delectable pear and mango martinis, mango mojitos (served in bended glasses), and pomegranate margaritas, we make our way to our table, anxious to consume our meals.

Our server, albeit quiet in nature, is pleasant, attentive, and courteous. He provides accurate recommendations in regard to the menu, which include zesty appetizers. The fried calamari possess a nice, squishy texture and mesh well with fiery red peppers. The Haitian fried meatballs with dipping sauce are a legitimate winner. With a lightly crunchy exterior and juicy, spicy interior, I could pop hundreds more of these into my mouth if only I had an expanded stomach capacity to do so. The only lackluster appetizer is the rum-roasted chicken wings, which come highly recommended by our server. Although meaty and flavorful, they more closely resemble buffalo wings than rum-soaked ones.

As with our drinks, we face a difficult task of choosing between a jaw-dropping number of entrees. Fortunately, they are flawlessly presented, large in portion size, and delectable upon arrival. Spicy aromas emanate from uniquely-shaped plates. Juicy goat meet happily swims in a slightly spicy, zesty creole sauce with peppers. A whole red snapper is equally divine, served with onions, peppers, and herbs. Island shrimp sizzled with peppers stands out, however, as the most memorable entrée of the evening with its winning, adventurous combination of ingredients that include brown sugar, cumin, and chili powder.

For dessert, the Raspberry Mont Blanc, a scrumptious concoction of white chocolate mousse, kirsh-soaked raspberries, is playfully presented in a white and red pyramid shell. Light, subtle, and not painfully sweet, I would travel to Egypt and back for another taste of this heavenly, innovative pyramid-like pastry.

It is this reviewer’s hope that Tamboo establishes its own rhythm in terms of attracting a consistent clientele. Certainly, its value cannot be beaten. Where else can fine dining be enjoyed at $15 to $20 per entrée? Hopefully, the mid-week visit and empty tables were not indicative of the fanfare surrounding this welcomed addition to the Brockton community. Otherwise, Paul’s Palate will sadly need to find its rhythm elsewhere.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Oak Room leaves hollow feeling

Upon entering the highly touted Oak Room restaurant, nestled away in Boston’s equally luxurious Fairmont Copley Hotel, the scene resembles that from one of the classic James Bond films, in which the suave, debonair 007 (Sean Connery, for my taste) enters an exorbitantly expensive dining establishment and calmly asks for his customary martini, shaken not stirred. The Oak Room, not surprisingly, offers such a cocktail called the 007. This secret agent, er, reviewer went undercover to assess if this dining experience would leave me saying Never Say Never Again (that would translate to a compliment given the double entendre) or have me playing the part of the evil Dr. No. In other words, did the Oak Room meet Paul’s Palate?

On atmosphere alone, the Oak Room scores high marks for grandeur and decadence. One can clearly ascertain from where the restaurant obtains its name, as oak panels encompass the entire room. The mounted, stuffed deer on the walls, mile-high cathedral ceilings, and illustrious chandeliers provide a peculiar, yet casual ballroom/country-club like setting. Waiters are decked out in tuxedoes, and customers should plan on dressing accordingly for this fancy affair (i.e. it is recommended that men wear jackets). The dining area is pristine, not a crumb to be found. One major cause for irritation, however: why does the Oak Room insist that customers depart from the dining area only to utilize the hotel’s washrooms, which are surprisingly filthy?

Service is near pitch perfect. Our waiter is friendly, attentive, and infinitely astute about the menu, confidently providing recommendations throughout the evening. One such notable suggestion of which this reviewer is particularly fond includes a 2004 Louis Martini Cabernet, which is perhaps the most smooth, subtle, luscious wine I have tasted in quite some time. This glass is not overpowering like most Cabernets, and perfectly compliments the steak dish I have ordered. The wine, however, is unfortunately the highlight of the evening.

Appetizers are disappointingly bland. Calamari came out lukewarm, containing too much batter and zero “zing.” Another side dish of potatoes and onion rings also comes out on the colder side, similarly lacking in flavor. Asparagus tips are also maddeningly lukewarm, and on the brittle side in terms of texture. On a more positive note, sesame crackers, crispy mini bagels, and spicy olives laid out tableside tide us over until the main entrees. As an aside, while the wine recommendation is spot-on, the pomegranate and cucumber mojitos we ingest are mediocre at best, lacking the sweet potency of the pomegranate altogether.

This being a steakhouse and all, meat assumedly will be the standout course of the evening. Are we ever mistaken: a bone-in ribeye, a notoriously juicy and moist cut of meat, is a tad overcooked and unacceptably fatty. Fortunately, the aforementioned Cabernet offsets this major culinary faux pas.

Given that we are celebrating a landmark birthday with family members, we proceed to devour slices of birthday cake that are garnished with a luscious kiwi and strawberry sauce. Our cinnamon-infused cappuccinos are the best I can recall in recent memory, but I remain baffled and frustrated as to why the drinks have taken center stage over the meals this evening.

In terms of value, the Oak Room rates poorly. While portions are moderate, the quality of the dishes ranges from mediocre to poor. For my money’s worth, this secret agent would rather splurge at Morton’s Steakhouse, or even Vintage, out in West Roxbury. Dr. No has re-emerged from his evil lair, and his earth-shattering verdict is in: the Oak Room does not meet Paul’s Palate.