This blog is devoted to highlighting restaurants of Memphis, Tennessee.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Jasmine

Finally (Part 4)

It has taken me a long time in getting to it, but I am proud to present my review of Jasmine Thai and Vegetarian Restaurant. Formerly a residential property in the heart of Memphis' Cooper-Young neighborhood, the restaurant is a small and cozy place that feels like home. It reminds me of a restaurant that I visited often when I was in Italy. Located about ten kilometers from Aviano Air Base in the town of Montereale Valcellina, the Spaghetti House (yes, that is the actual name) was a family-owned restaurant that served some of best pasta I have ever had. This isn't hyperbole (using my big word of the day), but the "House" served spaghetti with many different sauces and meats such as rabbit and venison. But despite it being the Baskins & Robbins of spaghetti, what I liked most about the Spaghetti House was its hospitality. The owners made me feel like a member of the family, something I appreciated. Since leaving Italy, I have long sought a restaurant with a similar family atmosphere. So far, the closest place where I have found that quality is Jasmine, my home away from home.

SIDE NOTE: In researching for this review, I've discovered that the Spaghetti House legacy lives on in America. At Dante's Bistro Bar & Grill in Barrington, New Hampshire, diners can get entrees that originated from recipes of the Meneguzzi family, my Italian "relatives" who I sorely miss.


When I returned to Memphis, I was at a loss in finding places to socialize. For a while, I hung out in Overton Square and Cooper-Young because of the neighborhoods' proximity to my house and for the convenience as stopover points after leaving work. Consequently, I found Jasmine as my new place for "home" meals. Although I don't get the same sense of family that I got at the Spaghetti House, I am always treated extremely well. That goes for both the matriarch (who's definitely not a "mama-san") of the house and its former waitstaff that it had before the economy went to crap in 2008 (but now slowly rebounding). In my opinion, I don't believe there are many restaurants in Memphis and elsewhere that offer a "home" environment like Jasmine, so I try to support the few that do.

SIDE NOTE: By the way, I don't want to imply that Memphis restaurants in general aren't appreciative of its customers. In particular, the places that I frequent the most are somewhat like "homes" too. For example, the Reillys and the staff at the Majestic Grille always welcome me with open arms and excellent service. Also, my relationship with Chef Brian Michael Patrick, going back several years when he was at Sleep Out Louie's, endures to this day. As the owner of Rizzo's Diner (who deserves huge congrats for recently moving to a bigger location at 492 South Main St.), Chef Mike makes it a point to ensure that all his patrons feel at home by personally greeting them and following up during their meals (unless he's busy in the kitchen). Chef Mike is a really good friend, as is restaurateur Aldo Demartino (aka "Aldo Dean"). As the owner of Bardog Tavern, Slider Inn and his namesake Aldo's Pizza Pies (with a new location opening next Spring on Cooper Street, a few blocks away from Jasmine), Aldo is loyal to both his "regulars" and employees who make his businesses gems among Memphis restaurants. On a personal level, Aldo and his people have taken very good care of me throughout years, even when I haven't been at my best (as in drunk). I want them to know that I'm appreciative and grateful for that and will always be loyal to the "Aldo brand."


In writing about service and loyalty, I almost forgot about the food. For that, I took a rare venture into vegetarianism. At Jasmine, I got the Yum Voon Sen, a vermicelli (grass noodles) dish with soy tofu, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and peanuts. Unlike Thai dishes that I'm accustomed to, this is a "cold" entrée that isn't fried, roasted or prepared in any other heated cooking method. The most noticeable thing about the Yum Voon Sen is its pungent aroma that tastes like sweat, stemming from the raw onions and cucumbers. To undercut that, I plucked out the onions and added a lot of heavily-seeded Thai pepper sauce. As I will explain later, using an ample amount of Jasmine's hot sauce is a big no-no for me. However, it was the only way I could overcome the aroma and finish my lunch. Rice and beer (Singha, Thailand's finest and much better and less ridiculous than a Bud Light) also helped, with the beer also helping me overcome the aftertaste. The vermicelli was bland, although it contributed to an interesting meal that was memorable. I would be lying if I said that I would order this again, but I don't want to discourage others from giving Jasmine's Yum Voon Sen a try if for no other reason than to experience something new.

SIDE NOTE: I believe that I now know the difference between an egg roll and a spring roll. After looking up both "rolls" in Wikipedia, I finally found clarity. The difference is in the wrapping, for egg rolls use flour dough that is thicker and flakier than a thinly wrapped spring roll. Adding to my confusion, Vietnamese spring rolls (such as the ones I had at Pho Binh) come wrapped in rice paper. Well, now that I know better, I will no longer use the two terms interchangeably for the same thing. That said, Jasmine's spring rolls are quite good although they don't top those of Shang Hai, in my opinion.


After having a taste of Vegetarian Thai, I focused on something that is more appealing to me. Before I start, I have an admission to make: my favorite Jasmine entrée is the Kung Pao Three. Yes, I know this is a Chinese dish but I love eating it with a glass of Yellow Tail Chardonnay. For this review, it wouldn't have been smart to write about it (and get clowned by certain individuals for it) so I decided to go pure Thai. To make sure that I was getting something legit, I sought the advice of the matriarchal owner who suggested the Basil Curry Paste Tofu with beef. When I ordered it, the lady (whose name I should know) asked me if I wanted it spicy or mild. Forgetting my past experiences, I foolishly chose "spicy" without giving it a second thought. However, my memories quickly came back when I dug into my plate. Despite the vegetables and seasoning, the biggest thing that stood out in the curry/tofu dish was the level of the spiciness. It was so hot that it overwhelmed everything else on my plate, including the curry. When compared to other foods, it wasn't the spiciest thing that I've had. It certainly doesn't come close to Kooky Canuck's Holy Smoke! Wings that made me tap out after the first bite (by the way, "Kooky" owner Shawn Danko is another great guy who is loyal to his customers). Still, the curry/tofu had me drinking copious amounts of water in order to nearly finish my meal. After finishing the curry/tofu and rice on my plate, I took the rest of it home and ate it the next day with Ramen noodles. With only a small amount, I was able to enjoy it better because it wasn't as spicy. Overall, I liked the Basil Curry Paste Tofu in spite of the spiciness but will definitely get a milder version the next time around. If there's a lesson to take from this, it is to respect the spiciness of Thai cuisine.
Now that I've finally written about the only restaurant among my Urbanspoon Favorites that hadn't been reviewed by me (for the few desktop users who visit my blog, the list is on right side of the screen), I can start this year on a positive. Jasmine has been and will always be a special place to go to whenever I need to chill in a homey environment. Since my first visit that happened over a decade ago, I have established allegiances with many more restaurants in Memphis, particularly with Downtown establishments. While I lean slightly more to Memphis' safest neighborhood, it doesn't diminish my love for my favorite Thai restaurant. Granted, there may be other places that serve better Thai food, but none do it with the hospitality and enthusiasm that Jasmine does. For that, I will always be loyal to it. ❤️‍

Jasmine Thai & Vegetarian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Labels: Asian, Chinese, Commentary, Midtown, Thai, Vegetarian/Vegan







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