Jícama and Asian pear need a little help if they’re going to make a good salad
  • Jícama and Asian pear need a little help if they’re going to make a good salad
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A sign tells you to order at the register first and then find your seat. That’s where the trouble began when I visited North Park’s colorful new tapas-style joint, Tamarindo Latin American Kitchen and Bar.

A colorful exterior draws a Friday-night crowd to Tamarindo

A colorful exterior draws a Friday-night crowd to Tamarindo

An island bar takes up the entire middle of the restaurant, disrupting any chance at feng shui by dividing the dining room down the middle. A clerk operates a register at the front where a line forms and, on a bustling Friday night, goes out the door.

A friend and I waited in that line, but upon reaching the counter we were informed that our food order couldn’t be placed until a table opened up. So we stood off to the left while the party behind us stepped up to the register. They, perhaps wisely, decided to wait until a table freed up before relinquishing their position at the front of the line.

All that citrusy juice can’t save the salmon aguachile

All that citrusy juice can’t save the salmon aguachile

So when a table opened to their right a few minutes later, they snagged it. Due to the way Tamarindo’s dining areas are sectioned, there’s no one spot you can stand to see the entire restaurant, so finding a table becomes a free-for-all. Fortunately, the clerk — put in the awful position of trying to appease a stalled line of customers — spotted a patio table open up. She completed the order and passed me a table flag, urging me to plant it immediately to claim the table.

The table wouldn’t be cleared for several minutes because while the restaurant’s palm-fronded, Central America-styled décor offered a pleasant-enough backdrop, functionally the place seemed to be verging on chaos. I couldn’t help but wonder whether traditional table service would be much easier for everyone. Then, just as our food arrived, a waitress approached to offer us traditional table service.

She explained that her job was to field secondary orders only — another round of drinks, for example, or dessert. Of course, since we’d already ordered and paid up front, this would require opening a second check.

Tamarindo North Park Latin Kitchen and Bar

2906 University Avenue, North Park

This isn’t Yelp. I didn’t sign up just to kvetch about the terrible way I was treated at a restaurant. In this case, the service staff was actually doing their best, despite being hamstrung by a lousy system. Under normal circumstances, I would never complain about being asked to wait for a table on a busy Friday night. I mean, having to wait around on a North Park sidewalk for a few minutes never hurt anyone.

But this convoluted rigmarole almost turned me off to a new restaurant before I even got any food. As it happens, the presentation of the salmon aguachile was great. Same with the jícama and Asian pear salad. Both $8 small plates would probably earn likes on Instagram. But the salmon had been overcured, tasting slightly fishy and cloying. And the shaved jícama and pear slices, served with coconut milk and vinaigrette, had some zest but lacked cohesion as a dish, coming off as an ingredient shy of satisfying.

I might give Tamarindo another shot, since I live nearby. But only after the place so alienates customers with its too-cute ordering protocol that it’s empty when I get there.

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