I don't go out to for lunch very often. There's usually something tasty coming out of the test kitchen at work, even now that we're finished with that theater of gluttony known as the Thanksgiving Recipe Contest.
Furthermore, I'm under the impression that, with the exception of Manresa in Los Gatos, the Peninsula isn't really a restaurant Mecca. There are some very good places, like Jessie Cool's restaurants, Flea Street Café and jZcool Eats in Menlo. But with most of the others, you're grading on a curve.
Then we went to Tamarine in Palo Alto. Now here's a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant that gives The Slanted Door a run for its money. Executive chef Tammy Huynh has a serious talent for mixing big flavors that run the entire spectrum of sweet, salty, aromatic, bitter, and sour. Like a finely tuned stereo equalizer, she can turn up the volume without losing the balance.
Menu highlights: Papaya salad with dried sesame beef and basil; hoi an beef (lemongrass beef, mint, cilantro, and lettuce stuffed into a rice noodle roll); Tamarine prawns; and, to complete the beef troika, a perfect shaking beef that even surpasses the version served up at Slanted Door.
Tamarine falls short on service, and its sleek, pleasant dining room can't compete with the Door's dramatic bayside space. But it's also a lot easier to get a reservation.