Friday, November 15, 2013

Tam Damn That's Good

In our continuing saga to sample Vietnamese food around town, gravity always pulls us back to our dependable standby, Tam Deli. Opened in 1999 by sisters Tam Bui (Tam and I worked together at the UT COOP way back in the day, too many years ago to admit) and Tran Ngoc (Tran is the sister that wears glasses; who appears to have the slightly more serious demeanor). Tran’s husband Nick can often be found waiting on tables and helping out; he’s the tall guy that always has a huge grin pasted from ear to ear, who is always cracking wry jokes and making-wise. I go into Tam Deli and it instantly feels like home; everyone is welcoming and friendly.

The family had to flee Hanoi to the south when the Communists took over the north in 1954, and then had to flee the south at the end of the Vietnam War when it was overrun. They started over with nothing, got degrees, raised families, and when the kids went off to college, the girls decided that a small restaurant would be the thing to do.


papaya salad with beef jerky

R and I went in one afternoon and Nick and the girls were all there.  R was a newbie at Tam Deli, so we decided to sample a big assortment, and cruise the menu. We started with a couple of excellent salads. The green papaya salad with beef jerky is a delight; the sweet-sour-salty dressing bathing the crunchy julienne of green papaya with the savory, toothsome homemade jerky as the counterpoint. We also had the Viet salad with shrimp and pork, on a bed of thinly julienned carrot and cucumber, all dressed with mint and nuoc cham; puffy shrimp chips add textural diversion.

shrimp and pork salad

Next came bahn cuon nhan thit cha lua, slippery steamed rice paper rolls stuffed with rich ground pork and shredded mushroom, each roll topped with a half moon slice of luscious smooth pork patê. We also got an order of bo bia, a fresh rice paper roll filled with steamed jicama julienne, carrot, lettuce, Chinese sausage, crushed peanut, and egg omelet strips. Radically different and delicious.

steamed rice paper rolls with patê

jicama spring rolls

We had to have an order of bahn xeo, the rice flour, mung bean, coconut milk, and egg omelet filled with ground pork,tender shrimp, and mung bean sprouts. Pack a bite with herbs from the platter (basil, cilantro, sprouts, fish herb), dip in the nuoc cham sauce, and munch away. Great stuff.  I had to introduce her to the bahn mi sandwich, and Tam Deli makes the best in town. It’s all about that perfectly crispy thin crust bread that’s moist and yeasty inside. We went with the grilled lemongrass beef, an option that is rarely found anywhere else, and it was magnificent: slivered jalapeno, mayo and butter, cuke and pickled carrot, cilantro, and that succulent lemongrass-kissed beef. Such a perfect delivery system for a sandwich.

bahn xeo

grilled lemongrass beef bahn mi

I had to get me some grilled pork and egg roll bun (noodle bowl). They do a nice version and don’t scrimp on the ingredients. I managed to eat about a third of it; I would have finished it but felt in danger of popping. We also ordered the tofu and vegetable sauté with spicy satay sauce, which was good, but the least dynamic of the entire spread.

bowl o' bun, with grilled pork and egg rolls

veggies and tofu with spicy satay sauce

We shared a glass of their amazing house special kumquat lemonade also: a most satisfying yet slightly unusual flavor. And no meal there would be complete without a couple of their bahn choux cream puffs, with that flaky, crunchy, golden-brown exterior, overstuffed with that just-right custardy cream filling.

the ethereal cream puff.....

I had to waddle out, carrying a huge to-go bag that I managed to graze off of for the next several days. It was nice seeing Tam, Tran, and Nick again, but even better eating their wonderful food. A little spot filled with big hearts and delicious food.

Mick Vann ©

8222 N Lamar Blvd,# D33; (512) 834-6458
(in the first strip center north of Research, on the west side)
10-8, closed Tuesday


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