Reviewing Jasmine Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant, I gave myself a parameter that I would try not to compare it to Tamarind Tree. It’s a little like Adam and Eve resisting the apple. It’s so easy, ripe, delicious, low hanging fruit. To use Tamarind Tree as a reference point when describing Jasmine would allow me to describe with out effort, but also with out poetry. Anyone can compare two like things, I am challenging myself to describe from the beginning. And it just isn’t fair–Tamarind Tree is one of the best restaurants in the city, and we want to compare just because it is also a Vietnamese restaurant. I like Nishino, but if someone opened a sushi restaurant near me, I wouldn’t write a review comparing it to Nishino. Ok, piece said. Here’s my take.
I first found Jasmine because I had forgotten that my much loved Lao-Thai restaurant, ViengThong, was closed on mondays, and the newly opened Jasmine was right next door. Recently, I returned to review it again for Restaurant Review 360. I had received and email from a fellow participant that she had a terrible experience there and would not be writing, and I panicked. Did I pick the wrong place? Aside from the ambience, I had rather enjoyed my meal there, but she had enjoyed the ambience and disliked the food. I was concerned, as I was bringing my family.
I shouldn’t have had a second thought. While the service seemed to lack a little professionalism, I appreciated that it appeared to be more out of naivety and sincere effort, as oppose to bad service from wanton apathy. Unfortunately they were out of ‘333’, the Vietnamese beer I had heard good things about, and offered us Tiger instead, a Singaporean beer which we declared the South East Asian Bud Light. From there on in things looked up. We started with a few appetizers, prawns on sugarcane sticks, baby clams with rice crackers (a favorite of mine, with just a hint of spice) and green mango salad. The green mango salad did have mangos, however they were fully ripe, not green, so they were a touch sweeter than they should be. Each dish came with its own distinct sauce, a peanut based one for the clams, a slightly sweet one for the mango, and I don’t know what the prawn one was, but it truly made the dish a much better one when dipped.
Our first two entrees had both had great flavor, thought they were a touch chewy. It was not enough that it made a difference to us, as they were delicious (“its pretty hard to screw up when you have this many dishes entitled “chile something”–mama gastrognome). That was the chile lemongrass beef and the chile garlic squid. I would definitely sit down to both of those again in a heart beat. But the true winner was the grilled eggplant, which were impressively good. Soft and melty on the inside, with a nice char on the outside, these were wonderful.
One thing I wanted to address was the portion size. These are quite small portions compared to the dishes you would order family style at many Thai or Chinese restaurants. For me, this is perfect, because the four of us were able to share a large number of dishes, but I would warn a big eater that they will need to order many things. Luckily you can keep ordering, the prices are not very high. For the four of us, including beers, it was $70 (before tip). Guys, my friends, that is very cheap. And very good.
The ambience is…odd. Some aspects are very fancy (piano in the corner), some are gaudy (stuffed green chairs on the raised level down the side) and some are downright strange (flat screen TV playing rotating images of art, some classic. Some not).
Overall though, this is a delicious, cheap restaurant where you are served by heartfelt servers. The owner was walking around, inspecting details with the care in his eye that you can sense as a diner. It does make a difference.