When Danielle Philippa opened Tango Restaurant & Lounge six years ago, our collective appetite for Latin flavors had been whetted thanks...
When Danielle Philippa opened Tango Restaurant & Lounge six years ago, our collective appetite for Latin flavors had been whetted thanks to places like Andaluca, Brasa, The Harvest Vine, The Spanish Table and Philippa’s own previous venture, the now-shuttered Bandoleone. Tango swept me — and lots of others — off my two left feet.
The news that Tango has a new choreographer, Travis Rosenthal, who acquired the business in mid-September, was reason enough to revisit. Plus, I was curious: Now that it’s no longer unusual to find chorizo in a bowl of clams or pimenton permeating short ribs, now that a meal composed of lots of little dishes is the norm, would dining at Tango be like slow dancing with an old flame? Would the moves be familiar but the sparks gone — or would the electricity still be there?
I found enough sizzle to keep my heart fluttering.
Just this month, Rosenthal and chef Michael Bruno unveiled a new menu that retains many old favorites and introduces several new dishes. Instead of a bulky, leather-bound volume, the roster is printed on a single page, a user-friendly format that lets the eye roam easily from hot and cold tapas at the top, down through salads, soups, cheeses, ceviches, seafood and meat, to the various paellas at the bottom.
Tango Restaurant & Lounge
1100 Pike St., Seattle; 206-583-0382
Hours: Dinner 5-10:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays- Saturdays; happy hour 4:30-6 p.m. Sundays-Fridays.
Prices: Tapas $2.25-$10.50, meat and seafood entrees $12-$18, paellas $34-$48 (for two or more to share).
Drinks: The prodigious wine list emphasizes Spain, Portugal and South America; the bar stocks aged tequilas and rums.
Parking: On street and nearby pay lots.
Sound: Hard surfaces and loud music make for a boisterous good time.
Who should go: Great for a convivial group meal (private and semi-private spaces available) but still cozy (if not very quiet) for two.
Cards: AmEx, V, MC.
Access: No obstacles.
The menu is still geared for sharing, and you’d be wise to make all your selections at once, letting your server “course” things for you — that is, bring them in stages. When we didn’t, we seemed to fall off the radar screen; long stretches of the evening went by with neither food nor drink on the table.
If that happens, you’ll at least have the comfort of the breadbasket. It’s filled (and refilled) with a delicate-crumbed, crusty hominy bread and a pot of butter spiked with pepper and sweetened with honey and bits of quince.
Toasted, that cornbread becomes sturdy paddles of crostini, perfect for scraping the crusted edges of “Queso Fundido,” a baked cheese casserole, which, along with “Queso Azul,” ranks among the best of the hot tapas ($8.50-$10.50).
The Fundido, served with coins of venison sausage and slices of tart apple, is like a Spanish fondue with a creamy pink vein of herbs and spices running through a melt of nutty mahon and smoky idiazabel. “Queso Azul” is named for the sharp Valdeon blue cheese that flavors four featherlight mini soufflés paired with sweet-tart huckleberry compote and a drizzle of port wine syrup.
Other notable hot tapas include wild mushrooms sautéed with Serrano ham and sherry, as well as pastel de choclo, a little Chilean casserole with layers of creamy corn and savory stewed meat embedded with raisins and hard-cooked egg. A squirt of ancho chili crema on the side injects some fiery fun.
For a cheap date, try cold tapas such as “Cheap Dates” ($2.25 each), irresistible bacon-wrapped Medjools served with grilled eggplant; perky piquillo peppers ($3 each) stuffed with Spanish tuna and capers dressed up with good olive oil and sea salt; or the opulent assortment of warm, citrus-marinated olives paired with coriander-dusted roasted almonds ($5.50).
Chase any of those with a glass of amontillado, albarino or tempranillo. In this raucous, multilevel space where candlelight and copper conspire to cast dusky shadows on the pale, steep walls, it’s not hard to imagine yourself in sunny Seville, instead of in Seattle with winter bearing down.
The cold weather nudged us toward “Carnes.” The pimenton-rubbed short ribs possessed a buttery texture and complexity of flavor under a Madeira glaze. The meat is bedded on deep-purple sweet-and-sour cabbage with crusty-jacketed, tender-hearted potato croquettes as pillows. Lamb loin was alluring for its mild gaminess countered by the tang of quince and coriander. Beef tenderloin, in pan juices tinged with truffle, was wondrously supple despite being cooked beyond the medium doneness requested.
All of those cuts join garlicky linquica sausage in “Paella con Carnes” ($48), a carnivore’s carnevale set atop paprika-spiked rice enriched with Rioja and veal stock. Like the other versions, made with fish broth, mushroom broth or squid ink, each is meant for two or more.
Grilled rum-glazed salmon ($18), new to the menu, should be a hit even in this salmon-saturated town. There’s a sneaky sweetness to the deftly grilled fillet and nice tension between the fish, the cool pineapple-sage salsa and the spicy sofrito rice.
Ceviches made the least favorable impression despite fabulous presentations. A sampler of our choice ($18) included large “Ecuadorian shrimp” in a spicy tomato-lime broth that tasted flat, as if in need of salt; coconut crabmeat with habanero that was over salted and still bland; and a “mixta” of mussels, calamari and octopus in horseradish vinaigrette with no kick at all.
Chef Bruno hovers in front of the open kitchen, checking every plate, frequently delivering food himself and taking the pulse of the dining room as he wends his way through the white-clothed tables. He sometimes looks anxious, but he shouldn’t. He and his new dancing partner have got most of the steps down.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
Olive and almonds $5.50
Queso Fundido $10.50
Grilled rum-glazed salmon $18.00
Short ribs $18.00
Paella con carnes (for two) $48.00