Sunday, January 26, 2014


I was very excited when I heard that another world famous chef would be setting up shop in Chicago.  Chef Gaston Acurio, Executive Chef of Astrid y Gaston, rated the 14th best restaurant in the world, has been introducing the world to Peruvian Cuisine and its influencing cuisines.  While his primary restaurant is Astrid y Gaston, he has been a culinary tour-de-force, opening 33 restaurants in 12 countries.  His restaurant in Chicago, Tanta, offers Peruvian cuisine from all of its regions and influences with the cocktail menu featuring the Peruvian national drink, Pisco.  Peru is on the Pacific Ocean so they have a lot of seafood on the menu as ceviche and in other preparations.  It also has the Andes and the Amazon River and in addition to the Spaniards and Aboriginal people that settled here, they also have Chinese, Japanese, and Italian populations that immigrated and settled here, so they have a lot of culinary traditions to draw upon.  Chicago is a foodie city that loves trying new and different things so it seems like a natural fit.  The outside of the restaurant is relatively plain and in a single story building although it does have a big and heavy wooden door that kind of reminds me of the entrance to a sushi restaurant.  Entering the restaurant does not dissuade that idea much, although there is a definite Latin twist.  There is a a bar on the left side of the restaurant running back into the bar with the ceviche bar at the end of it.  The dining room is relatively open but there is a half-wall that runs parallel to the bars through the center of the dining room.  Aside from bar seating, the seating is divided between high tops and booths.  The kitchen is in the back of the restaurant and is relatively open.  I sat at the ceviche bar and was able to watch the chefs at the ceviche station put together their orders.  I could also, to a lesser extent, watch the chefs in the kitchen, but the ceviche chefs were more interesting to me.  Before I ordered anything, I was served a basket of Plantain chips wrapped in paper that were served with a light dipping sauce that I was able to enjoy while perusing both the cocktail and food menus.  They were crunchy as a fried plantain might be expected to be and the sauce was tangy and buttery with a spicy finish that went surprisingly well with the plantains.

For my cocktail, I decided to go a little away from their specialty.  There were many Pisco cocktails, and I like pisco, but there was a drink on the menu that stood out for me that really sounded good.  I ordered La Guapa.  La Guapa had City of London Gin, Lavender, Rhubarb, Lemon, and Cremant de Bourgogne (a sparkling wine from Burgundy, France).  The drink was pink, smelled floral, and had a lavender flower floating in it.  I like gin, but this was surprisingly "ginny".  I enjoyed it.  It was refreshing but it was also not something that you might want to drink quickly which was fine because it allowed me to drink it throughout dinner.
 While I mentioned that I sat at the ceviche bar, I did not have ceviche.  I like ceviche and I know that I like ceviche.  I wanted to explore other areas of Peruvian cuisine.  While the food I had used a lot of seafood, it was actually cooked.  I started out with a Pulpo Anticucho.  Pulpo is octopus and an anticucho is a skewer of grilled meat served with a potato and marinated in a sauce of vinegar and spices such as garlic, cumin, and aji pepper, so this was supposed to be a grilled octopus skewer with a vinegar and spice sauce.  Anticuchos are a very popular Peruvian street food.  Everything was there but the skewer which, I imagine was removed before serving.  The Potato was roasted in a Chimichurri Sauce, a sauce made with vinegar, cumin, and garlic, and everything was topped with a Black Olive Cream.  The potato was tender and flavorful with the chimichurri sauce infusing everything and had a nice light crust.  The octopus tentacle was pretty large and perfectly cooked and the olive cream finished everything off nicely.
After the Peruvian street food, I explored the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine with Arroz Criollo, a wok stir-fried dish similar to paella.  In addition to the stir-fried rice, it was served with Mussels, Shrimp, more Octopus (baby, this time), Aji Amarillo, White Wine, and Criolla Salad which included Radishes, Cilantro, Cucumbers, Corn, and Cherry Tomatoes.  This was very good with a wide variety of flavors and textures.  The rice was al dente and a little spicy with seafood and flavors.  Every bite brought something new.

I was actually expecting dessert to be a little anticlimactic but I was pleasantly surprised.  I ordered Pie de Limon which listed Lime Mousse with Crispy Quinoa, Cancha, and Lime-Mint Sorbet.  I was actually expecting to be served something similar to a Lemon Meringue Pie with a Lime-Mint Sorbet on the side.  I was correct technically, but the presentation made it something different.  It was served in a goblet with a slightly bruleed meringue next to the lime-mint sorbet on top of the lime mousse.  The crispy quinoa and cancha (Andean corn nuts) formed a crunchy crust on the bottom of the goblet.  It was very tart, as one might expect, but the mint provided a surprising finish. 

I really enjoyed my dinner here and while I had a variety of things here.  I really need to return to continue my exploration because there is a lot more to see and try.  The staff was very friendly and were very willing to answer questions.  This is definitely a place to which I must return.       

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