Tanta

Tanta opened in River North to much fanfare in August. A few years ago I ate at Gaston Acurio’s place in San Francisco (La Mar), which I really enjoyed so I was looking forward to checking out Tanta. It’s been crazy busy and hard to get into on Friday/Saturday nights, so we decided to check it out with some friends last night (a Sunday).

Even on a Sunday the place was pretty busy. I don’t know why but I was expecting the restaurant to be much larger than it actually is. It’s a nice size space, not like the other cavernous trendy feed halls in the area.

We got the usual “have you dined with us before” from our server, but for once I was actually thankful for the menu run-down that followed. Tanta’s menu is divided up into a bunch of sections so it was actually pretty helpful to hear what each one was all about and to hear about a few dishes from each one. It helped that our server was deeply familiar with the menu and wasn’t just pushing what he was told at that night’s pre-shift meeting.

We decided to start with one dish from each of the five sections of the menu that are intended to be appetizers:

Tiraditos (crudo, more or less) – criollo (mahi mahi with aji amarillo)
Niguiris (Peruvian version of nigiri) – anticucho (more mahi mahi)
Cebiche – criollo (mahi mahi, squid, and shrimp)
Anticuchos (skewers) – pulpo (octopus with chimichuri and fried garlic)
Causita (served on top of mashed potatoes) – clasica (crab with avocado and egg)

All were delicious with the exception of the causita with tasted a little bit like tuna salad on top of mashed potatoes. The fish used in the raw dishes was fresh and high quality, The octopus in the anticuchos was cooked perfectly, not rubbery at all. The nice part though was that dishes were brought out one at a time and actually in a thoughtful order. Given a similarly structured menu it seems like most restaurants in town these days would have sent out everything at once (completely overwhelming the table) or in whatever order the kitchen felt like sending them out.

For my main course I went with the half chicken. The place is Peruvian, how could I not try the chicken? This was some fantastic chicken. White and dark meat, both moist. Skin perfectly seasoned and textured. And the chicken comes with a ridiculous amount of other stuff: rice, beans, salad, fried potatoes, and three sauces (which were good but completely unnecessary). At $19 this might be one of the better bargains for a meal in River North. Our table also ordered the pork fried rice to share and it was also great, but in a trashy sort of way. Lots of sauce and scrambled eggs, with the whole thing still cooking at the table. If you go with a group I would recommend getting it but be prepared for a “hate eating” experience.

Tanta could have easily fallen into the trap of being all style and no substance given the area but that is definitely not the case. This is a serious restaurant putting out great examples of higher end Peruvian food. 

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