Restaurants Bars
Entertainment Restaurants Bars

Mini-review: Tanta

Mini-review: Tanta
118 W. Grand Ave. 312-222-9700
Rating: 3.5 (out of 4) Heating up

You might not have heard of Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, but he has 33 restaurants around the world, including Astrid y Gaston in Lima, which ranked one spot higher (#14) on The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2013 list than Chicago's celebrated Alinea. Tanta, his newest spot in River North, is only his third restaurant in the United States. While Tanta, billed as a casual cebicheria (heavy on citrus-cured seafood), isn't shooting to be a four-star restaurant like Astrid y Gaston, it displays the mark of a very talented chef.

The scene: A huge mural on the east wall depicting the Peruvian countryside, an octopus tentacle, floating chilis and a buxom Latina beauty looks like the work of a talented street graffitist. A grey slatted half-wall divides the chalkboard-backed bar from the comfy banquette-studded dining room. Though hot new spots like Tanta are usually dominated by the young and sharply dressed, the night I visited, the place was filled with a mostly older crowd, many khaki- and linen-clad, nursing pisco sours.

The food: The temperature topped 90 degrees outside when I visited and the AC struggled to keep up, leaving the air thick with humidity. Acurio's food was the perfect foil. From the tiradito (Peruvian sashimi-style plates) portion of the menu, the nikei ($16) featuring diamond-shaped pieces of ruby-colored ahi tuna dripping with honey, passion fruit and a sweet lime and chili-brightened sauce called leche de tigre (which translates to tiger's milk) was especially cooling. Cebiche chifa ($16), lime-cured bass tossed with smoky roasted peanuts, crispy wonton strips and spicy ginger threads was refreshing. Chef de cuisine Jesus Delgado said that unlike many Mexican ceviches, Peruvian cebiches are made at the last minute, so the seafood and other ingredients don't get soggy. The man speaks the truth, as this bass was exceptionally firm and fresh. Causita clasica ($9), whipped Peruvian potatoes dabbed with huancaina (a sauce of condensed milk, queso fresco cheese and fiery aji chilis) and heaped with crab, avocado, tomato and a half-moon slice of hard-boiled egg, had the potential to bog me down with heat, but the potatoes were smartly served at room temperature. They reminded me of the velvety, luxurious mashed potatoes served by French legend Joel Robuchon that I ate at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas a few years ago. Even a wintry-sounding dish such as adobo de ternera ($33), tender veal cheeks bathed in a garlic-, paprika- and vinegar-seasoned gravy, had its richness tempered by snappy pickled radish slices. The chaufa aeropuerto ($18), a pork-studded fried rice topped with a custardy shrimp omelet served in a stone bowl was probably the only dish that didn't have some kind of lifting acidity. And yet, like Korean bibimbop, it was rich and comforting, the kind of thing you'd like to eat in the morning while nursing a killer hangover.

The drinks: Though I was thoroughly stuffed, I was so enthralled by the chaufa aeropuerto that I kept digging in until the waiter mercifully arrived and packed up the rest for me to take home. Thankfully, the Smooth Criminal cocktail ($12), a mix of herbal chartreuse, woodsy rye and chocolate-like bitters, had a digestif-like quality that perked me up enough to power through dessert. Tanta's classic pisco sour ($12), made from lime juice and Pisco (Peruvian grape brandy) shaken with sugar and egg white until frothy, was also a nice summery sip.

The service: Though our server was generally knowledgeable and attentive, he took awhile to take my order and was a touch pushy on the upsells, prodding me to order another cocktail when mine was only half gone. The pacing of the meal was also slow; it took a whopping 47 minutes from the time my table was seated to receive our first course. Though the server had promised the cebiche and the tiradito to start, we only received the tiradito; the cebiche followed ten minutes later. This kind of lag seemed to be par for the tables surrounding mine.

Bottom line: While most Peruvian spots in Chicago serve heavy carb- and meat-laden home-style plates, Tanta's fare--which is balanced with acidity and features the pleasing interplay of crisp and soft textures--is the inspiring work of an accomplished gourmet chef. Just don't come here if you're in a hurry. While the dining room at Tanta pulsates with throbbing beats and a vibrant energy, the kitchen is very deliberate and food trickles out at a slow pace.

Michael Nagrant is a RedEye special contributor. Reporters visit restaurants unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye. | @redeyeeatdrink

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has sued Chicago's former red light camera operator, Redflex Traffic Systems, for more than $300 million on grounds the entire program was built on a $2 million bribery scheme at City Hall that has already led to federal corruption convictions.

  • Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    The four musicians in Marrow know quite a bit about bringing diverse influences to the table. After all, three of them, singer-guitarist Liam Kazar, singer-keyboardist Macie Stewart and bassist Lane Beckstrom were in Kids These Days, a now-defunct septet that combined jazz, funk, rap and rock in...

  • The Kids These Days family tree

    The Kids These Days family tree

    From its 2009 beginnings to its 2013 demise, Chicago's Kids These Days seemed like one of the most promising acts the city had seen in years. While the band split up at the height of its hype, its members have since gone on to do bigger and better things—seriously impressive considering the hip-hop/rock/jazz...

  • Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    After the dissolution of Kids These Days, the much-buzzed about Chicago fusion-jazz-rock-rap septet that split in spring 2013 just a few months after releasing its only album, “Traphouse Rock,” some of its members spent what seems like all of 20 minutes bandless. "We were driving back from the...

  • Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

  • GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    Technical difficulties at GrubHub and Seamless over the weekend drove hordes of hangry would-be customers to air their grievances on social media. The food ordering and delivery sites, which merged in 2013 and use GrubHub’s back-end technology, errantly accepted payments on Saturday evening without...