Tamarind Bay is an Indian restaurant nestled on the corner of JFK and Winthrop St. in Harvard Square, down a flight of stairs, in an almost cave-like space. Instead of being dark and creepy, though, the interior is beautifully done in shades of yellow and gold, giving it a warm and inviting feel. Arriving just after 6pm on a Wednesday night, we had our pick of tables. By the time we left around 7:30pm, the place was packed, excited voices bouncing off the walls of the small space. Go early if you want a quiet dining experience, but you'll be so busy enjoying the food that the noise won't be much of a distraction anyway.
Our waiter was a little bit hard to understand, but he had no trouble understanding our somewhat mangled pronunciations of the food. I decided to start off with my favorite drink, a mojito, which was strong but sweet, and my dining companions, Ben and Janice, each ordered a mango lassi, a non-alcoholic creamy fruit drink that "takes you on a vacation to another place," according to Ben. (Later in the meal, he decided to take even more of a vacation with a gin and tonic.) We decided to skip appetizers, although they all sounded delicious. The appetizer section of the menu is divided into vegetarian and non-vegetarian, and it includes several soup choices. We went overboard on bread, ordering regular nan, garlic nan, and poori. The puffy, delicately fried poori was a tasty treat, and both the garlic and regular nan complemented the main course well. That much bread isn't really necessary, but hey, I really like carbs!
For the main course, I ordered the Mysore Chilli Chicken, cubes of chicken with a curry leaf sauce. The chicken was boneless and tender, smothered in a mild curry sauce. The sauce also went well with the rice and nan. Ben ordered a lamb dish, a hearty brown stew that was aromatic and filling. Janice opted for paneer, a cheese that has a consistency almost like tofu, but firmer. I was hesitant to try it; I tend to avoid cheese unless it's on pizza or pasta. Finally, Janice's description of the subtle flavor convinced me to try it. I took a (very) small bite and found it to be delicately spiced. I liked the flavor, but I found the texture to be very unusual. If you enjoy other paneer dishes, tofu, or anything along those lines, you'll probably really enjoy this dish. The menu features chicken, vegetable, lamb, goat, and even some seafood choices. I don't think I've ever seen shrimp or scallops on the menu at an Indian restaurant, so next time I go, I'll give one of those dishes a try.
I really wanted to try the kheer (rice pudding) for dessert, but we were all stuffed from the copious amounts of bread and everything else. The total bill came to about $97 after tax and tip. Not too bad for two cocktails, two mango lassis, three breads, and three entrees. Most of the entrees were around $15.
Overall, I think we all really enjoyed our meal here. I'd definitely like to come back to try the lunch buffet, which is $8.95 per person on weekdays and $9.95 on weekends, and I'm very curious about the seafood dishes.
Address: 75 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 (corner of JFK and Winthrop)
Email: info [at] tamarind-bay.com
Lunch Hours: Monday-Friday, 12pm-2:30pm; Saturday & Sunday, 12pm-3pm
Dinner Hours: Daily, 5pm-10:30pm
Reservations recommended for parties of four or more.
Catering is available.