Baguettes, introduced into Vietnam during French rule, were originally reserved for the rich, who would dip them into sweetened condensed milk. Eventually, the bread was culinarily repurposed from banh tay, or “foreign cake,” into banh mi, or “wheat cake,” to serve as the scaffolding for the delectable street food comprised of mayonnaise, pâté, ham and a variety of other variegated ingredients. For an equally successful transformation into multicultural fusion cuisine, a restaurant needs to cherry pick the most delicious ingredients and effective cooking techniques. Madame Tam Gourmet Asian Bistro provides pan-Asian cuisine that poaches the right ideas from a variety of cultures but is unable to produce a particularly memorable experience.
The restaurant has an understated and welcoming décor filled with earthen tones. A narrow setup can produce a bit of commotion and makes it serve best as an upscale but not fancy dinner among friends.
There are some dishes that are fairly solid. The Caviar Tuna Tartare, for example, is a bright and colorful dish that is an excellent starter to share. The salmon roe can overwhelm the subtlety of the tuna, though, in part because the avocado and cucumber bedding seems to be an overly ambitious understudy, resulting in a bit of a dearth of tuna. The Grapefruit Jicama Salad is strong as well. The meatiness of the walnuts, the burst of the grapefruit, the satisfying crunch of the jicama and cabbage — they all come together in a refreshingly light salad. The Salt and Pepper Fresh Dungeness Crab is delicious and worth the work it takes to fish out the meat (excuse the pun). At times, though, the texture and flavor, especially when combined with the sautéed onions, can be very reminiscent of liver and onions, which is an unfortunate relationship.
Much of the rest of the menu, however, is fairly mediocre. The Seafood Cellophane Noodles, similar to Pad Thai, are tasty without being too salty. The mushrooms pick up some of the slack where the shrimp seems to have gotten lazy, and in the end, a pleasing yet unremarkable plate emerges. On the other hand, the Tamarind Prawns are quite good, but they are served on a completely uninspired garnish. The Korean BBQ Beef Short Ribs have the savory sweetness to be expected from the tradition, but the meat does not fall apart as it should and ends up too chewy. The Claypot Chicken is certainly not bad, but it is entirely forgettable. Similarly, the Mango Papaya Salad is fun to eat but nothing special at all.
And some of the menu is a clear miss. I was shocked to receive the Vegetarian Noodle Pho without a heaping pile of basil; mistakes happen. Regardless, the flavor profile of the broth is not particularly nuanced or interesting; it has a straightforward, savory monotone to it. Furthermore, the flavor profile of the broth is not particularly nuanced or interesting; it has a straightforward, savory monotone to it. The Buddha’s Vegetarian Imperial Rolls lack any excitement. There is not enough crunch from the jicama or taro, producing a mouthfeel that is just off.
Madam Tam’s is a good option for a group of friends looking for Asian food but unable to decide on exactly what. The menu offers a deep roster of decent options with influences from across Southeast Asia against a mainly Thai and Vietnamese backdrop. However, there are no real standout plates that make the restaurant spectacular. The bistro ends up in the “middle of the road.”