Tanta – A Peruvian Melting Pot


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Tanta, a relatively new restaurant in River North takes you through a journey of the complex flavors of Peru. An eclectic cuisine, with influences from the Incas as well as Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish immigrants, it is sure to please every palate. Chef Acurio succeeds in alluring Chicagoans with his use of fresh ingredients to create tasty food in a trendy ambiance.

Tanta is one of the very few Peruvian restaurants in Chicago and the first to land in River North. In this popular neighborhood it is easy to fall for a tourist trap with a buzzing ambiance, large cocktail menu and mediocre food. Tanta was busy for a rainy Wednesday and I’m happy to say that the food and cocktails had nothing mediocre about them.

In the midst of the international culinary phenomena, unlike some of its neighbors, Peruvian cuisine had never made a big leap internationally. However that has changed in recent years and people are embracing the rich culture and cuisine of Peru. The flavors reflect local practices and ingredients but is strongly influenced by a mélange of cultures from the indigenous Incas to the Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish immigrants. Peru’s eclectic cuisine has recently been recognized as one of the finest in the world – it could be the next big thing.

Chef Gastón Acurio

Chef Gastón Acurio, the visionary behind Tanta, operates 33 restaurants in 12 countries and has been a major contributor to the Peruvian culinary revolution. He is also the man behind the 18th best-rated restaurant in the world, Astrid y Gastón in Lima, Peru.

Image courtesy Revista Vinos y Restaurantes
Chef Acurio Image courtesy Revista Vinos y Restaurantes

Tanta’s chef de cuisine is the humble and talented Chef Jesus Delgado. A chef with over 20 years of culinary experience, 8 of them with Chef Acurio and has only good things to say about him,

 For him it’s so easy to cook. It’s natural for him. Also when he talks, everything is about food, everything is about more than food, what it really means to give food to the people – that’s what I like – the passion that he has. All he does is to give

With Chef Jesus Delgado

Ambiance & Décor

Tanta is a shared plates casual concept that can be enjoyed with friends, a casual date or even family (though bear in mind it can be a little loud). The décor is modern and very vibrant. It playfully reflects the colorful Peruvian culture with artwork on the wall (by Chicago muralist Jeff Zimmerman) and recipes in Spanish behind the bar. It also has a beautiful rooftop that can be enjoyed this (hopefully long) summer.

Tanta Bar Image Courtesy Anjali M. Pinto

Food

There is something to please every palate in Tanta; from light citrusy raw fish preparations to heartier meat dishes and then there are spicier bites for those that like a kick to their food like me.

Our server, Carolina, had extensive knowledge of the menu as well as Peruvian cuisine. The upper half of the menu comprises of bite size appetizers. The bottom half contains the heartier dishes.

We ordered a Pisco Sour and were served plantain chips that were accompanied with a delicious gluten-free sauce made of aji amarillo (a bright orange Peruvian chile) and huacatay (Peruvian black mint).

Pisco Sour
Plantain chips with aji amarillo sauce

We started with the cebiche tasting. Although I am familiar with the Mexican ceviche, Chef Delgado tells us that ‘Peru is also the land of the cebiches. ‘We make cebiches with everything, not just cold cebiches, but also hot cebiches, even chicken cebiches. The clásico was our favorite – with fluke, leche de tigre (a Peruvian citrus base marinade made of fish stock and cilantro) and habanero peppers.

The fish is always fresh. We receive it every morning and I am the first filter. I always look for fresh fish because for a cebiche you need fresh fish – Chef Delgado

Cebiche Tasting

Next up was the Japanese influenced Niguri Nikei– the pobre.  Ironically this dish had nothing pobre (poor) about it. A delicate dish that comprises of rice topped with flavorful and rich skirt steak and a quail egg. This is accentuated by the chalaca sauce (a sauce named after Lima’s main seaport) gives it the unique Peruvian zest.

Niguiri Nikei – Pobre

Another staple in Peruvian cuisine is the causitas – a mashed potato dish. Tanta’s version was topped with a soft avocado and crab salad with the signature peruvian kick of the spicy aji chilli.

Causita Clásica

Our final savory dish was the fried rice – Chaufa Aeropuerto (chaufa in Peru is a preparation in which Peruvian and Chinese ingredients are fused to Cantonese culinary tradition) and it was the perfect selection. This is one airport I’d like to land on every single day! It was served in a hot stone bowl with a layer of cooked egg on top. The chaufa was a complex, deeply flavored dish that I couldn’t resist (I had 3 helpings of it!) The ingredients once again were of such high quality, every bite had a crunch of enoki mushrooms, tender pieces of flavorful pork and perfectly cooked shrimp.

Chaufa Aeropuerto
Chaufa Aeropuerto

For dessert we had Alfajor- short bread cookies with dulce de leche. The dessert was tasty but a little underwhelming after the incredible flavors I had experienced for dinner. Nevertheless the sweetness of the dulce de leche was satisfying and the vanilla bean ice cream was texturally ideal.

Dessert – Alfajor

Final Words

Peruvian Cuisine – the next big thing – reflects an amalgamation of flavors that I never thought was possible to experience in a single meal. Tanta Chicago is a perfect representation of this presenting delectable food using fresh, local ingredients and a melting pot of culinary influences that provide a memorable dining experience.

For more information, visit their website http://www.tantachicago.com/

COPYRIGHT © 2014 PRIYA SAWLANI

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