Triangle Vegetarian Society

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Restaurant Review

Tangerine Cafe

(out of 5.0)
Veg. Sensitivity4.3

2422 SW Cary Parkway

Cary, NC 27513


Review Date: January 15, 2010

Reviewers: Missy A., Teri Beckman, John D., Sally D., Jimmy Efird, Jody Hamilton-Davis, Beth L., Lucy Moore, Ron N., Noel O.

Author(s): Michael Pocinki

Tucked away in a strip shopping center on Cary Parkway is where you'll find Tangerine Cafe. Open for just over 3 years, Tangerine is apparently a well-kept secret: Even reviewer Trish, who lives just 2 miles away, had never heard of the place until we scheduled this review.

At the end of our meal, I heard many positive remarks from our reviewers, mostly about the food and the service. The actual written review sheets echo those remarks, but they also reveal an underlying problem: At least half of our reviewers had a problem with the spiciness level of their food–in many cases, the spice level received was exactly the opposite of what was requested.

Out of 8 appetizers on the menu, 2 are vegetarian–in fact fully vegan. Fresh Mint Rolls (2 rolls for $2.95, served with Hoisin sauce) are an uncooked sort of spring roll consisting of rice paper wrapped around tofu marinated in lemongrass, lettuce, other vegetables, and mint. Jo described them as "very good" and "fresh tasting." Jody agreed that they were "very fresh."

I did not try the Vegetable Pakoras, but I thought that the serving I observed, of about 6 pakoras for $2.95, was a good deal. Ron enjoyed his and told me that they were not overly oily despite being deep fried. The Vegetable Pakoras are not vegan, as the batter contains eggs.

Of the 5 soups offered, 2 are vegan: Indian Lentil Soup (Dal) and Miso Soup. At $1.95 for a big bowl, the soup may be the best value here. On my last visit, I tried the miso soup, but I found it too salty for my taste. Those who ordered it the night of our review liked it. As for the Dal, Beth found it to be "a little bland but good with the hot sauce (she) requested on the side." Missy described the Dal as "delicious." Christine tasted "different flavors in each spoonful."

Ron opted to make a meal out of an "organic salad" ($6.95), Dal, and Vegetable Pakoras. He enjoyed everything. Christine was impressed with the low prices, pointing out that it's "almost impossible to find $1.95 soup and $2.95 appetizers in most places."

Tangerine's 14 entrees, 3 of which are vegan, range in price from $8.95 to $14.95. They come with white rice. Sally pointed out that brown rice is not an option. Tangerine is willing to adjust meat dishes to make them vegetarian or vegan where possible. As an example of the restaurant's willingness to accommodate special requests, Sally was able to get green beans with her Lemongrass Tofu dish, in place of the spinach that usually comes with it.

The entree ordered most by our group was the Lemongrass Tofu ($8.95): "Pan-fried bean curd [tofu] slices marinated in a lemongrass sauce; served with spinach sauteed with garlic, carrots, and black mushrooms." I had this dish on my last visit: I enjoyed it, though I found the spinach a bit salty.

Those who ordered it on the night of our review were not, as a whole, happy with it: Most wondered the same thing, as put into words by John: "Where's the lemongrass?" They seemed to be seeking a lemongrass flavor to the tofu that was not there. Jo found the dish "disappointing": "too much tofu and not enough vegetables."

John described it as "blandish": "very heavy on tofu, very light on the 'black' mushrooms that were supposed to be in the dish." John found the medium spiciness he asked for to be mild instead. Beth agreed with Jo that there was too much tofu and not enough vegetables in the dish.

Three reviewers ordered the Thai Vegetable Curry ($8.95). Missy requested "not spicy" and found the dish nevertheless too spicy. The waiter had to bring her coconut milk to dilute the spiciness. Christine made use of the coconut milk remedy, too, as the "touch of spice" she requested in this dish was very spicy to her. Noel ordered this dish mild, but he considered what he received to be "very spicy."

Ling was the only person who ordered Tofu and Mixed Vegetables with Chili Basil. Though she offered no comments about it, she gave the food a "5," our highest rating.

Jody ordered a vegan-ized Green Chicken Curry, replacing the chicken with tofu. She appreciated the waiter's knowledge about what could be made vegan. Jody found her dish to be "very good" except that the medium spice level she requested was "not very spicy."

Rice and Noodles
This section of the Tangerine menu includes 7 items that range in price form $8.95-$10.95. All contain meat, but most can be made vegetarian or vegan by omitting meat or altering ingredients.

I ordered the Mee Goreng, which is Indonesian-style stir-fried noodles with vegetables. I substituted tofu for the chicken, shrimp, and egg listed on the menu. I'm still not sure if the "egg noodles" mentioned on the menu were actually egg noodles: They did not look like egg noodles to me, and the on-line menu does not call them egg noodles. But I did enjoy the dish. It came mild, as I requested, and it included green beans, broccoli, and bean sprouts–a nice combination of vegetables.

Lucy ordered the Singapore Noodles: "Curry-flavored rice noodles with shrimp and chicken and shredded vegetables." Lucy got tofu in place of the shrimp and chicken. I tried a taste of Lucy's dish and loved the mild curry flavor. Lucy found the dish to be spicier than the "mild" she asked for, but she still described it as "tasty and nice." Jo thought the Singapore Noodles looked "really yummy" and hopes to try that dish on her next visit to Tangerine.

Based on her review scores and on my conversation with her a few days later, Ricki was disappointed with this restaurant. For her dinner, Ricki ordered the Vietnamese Vermicelli Bowl, replacing the meat with tofu: "Pork chop and shrimp served atop a bed of vermicelli, cucumber, bean sprouts, lettuce, and fresh mint." She was disappointed that the dish had no broth and that it was "mostly lettuce." The waiter brought her two different sauces, both of which she found to be very spicy despite her request for no spice.

There are just three desserts offered, at $3.50 each, and none is vegan. Noel enjoyed the Cheesecake Roll. Ricki was unhappy that the Coconut Rice Pudding came with pineapple rather than the mango promised on the menu. She was told that mango was out of season. Coconut Custard (Flan) is the third dessert.

Several reviewers enjoyed a pot of jasmine tea (just $1.95), though Lucy was put off by the tea cup being plastic rather than ceramic. Tangerine would help itself immeasurably by investing in a water filter: I found the water, presumably tap water, to be almost undrinkable, even with lemon in it.

As I do always when dining out, I appreciated the presence of cloth napkins rather than paper. I also appreciated the mellow music that was playing, as opposed to the Zeppelin-esque rock and roll that I heard–to my surprise and bemusement–on my previous visit.

The walls of the restaurant used to be, appropriately, a cheery tangerine color. But they are now painted a fairly bold lime green. Ricki confirmed my take on the paint job: "Used to have orange walls, which go better with everyone's complexion than green." Along those lines, I found the lighting to be rather harsh. And I never enjoy a wall full of mirrors, though I understand that it is used to make a small place look bigger. In winter time, be sure not to sit by the door if you're prone to feeling cold.

When it came to our wait service, most everyone appreciated our waiter's attentiveness and willingness to accommodate our vegetarian/vegan requests. Christine thought he had an "excellent table-side manner." Most found him very pleasant, but a few found him a bit abrupt. I learned later that Tangerine usually handles groups of 8 at the most. So I think our waiter did a great job considering that we had a group of 16. Some reviewers complained about how long it took our entrees to arrive, but I believe the waiter was waiting until everyone had finished with appetizers before he brought out the entrees.

On the menu, vegetarian items are marked clearly (though not on the on-line menu). As Teri pointed out, the menu is not as helpful when it comes to knowing what is vegan.

When you go to Tangerine's website, be sure to sign up for their monthly email, which includes a coupon/special deal (such as 10% off your total bill). Tangerine also offers a frequent diner card that gives you a discount on your eleventh visit.

Via its "You Eat, We Give" program, Tangerine donates, once a month, 10% of a day's sales to a chosen charity. This month, the restaurant donated 10% of its sales from Saturday, January 16, to Care, an international relief organization, in light of the recent earthquake in Haiti.

Overall, Tangerine was a dream for some, but not for others. I think the folks who were not entirely pleased with their meals will be happier next time if they make excruciatingly clear how spicy they want their food to be.

Will we take another bite of Tangerine? Jo says, "I would definitely return if I am in the area but probably wouldn't drive 40 minutes from Durham." Ron says, "I would like to return."