Climbing up the dark stairway towards the sunlight cascading through the doors that lead to the urban oasis that is the rooftop at Tanta, I was excited to try Tanta’s brunch. It had been a long time coming—I’d been itching to revisit the restaurant since dining there last summer. Alexis is also a regular at Tanta for dinner. So, we were thrilled that they invited us in to brunch.
I was first to arrive, and was seated in the sunshine by an extremely welcoming hostess. Upon sitting down, I quickly realized that the sun was relentless and I had made an extremely uncharacteristic mistake —I forgot my sunglasses! For a split second, I thought about running to the nearest store to remedy the situation. But, before I could make any moves, I was greeted by the smiling waitress. I ordered Tanta’s take on a mimosa, a Maracuya mimosa, which uses Peruvian passion fruit juice in place of orange juice.
As soon my cocktail arrived, my annoyance with the sun dissipated. The cocktail was much sweeter than your typical mimosa, but in a tropical way. I could feel and taste the bubbles as I sipped. Excessive juice in a mimosa does not fly in my book. Mimosas should be Prosecco with a splash of juice, never juice with a splash of Prosecco!
Halfway through my refreshing brunch cocktail, I happened to look towards the door as Alexis strolled in wearing a yellow dress as bright as the sun, looking fabulous as always. In truth, there is not a single soul I love brunching with more than Chicago editor-in-chief, Alexis. Alexis is the type of person that could tell the most interesting, or conversely, the most inane story and manage to captivate your attention all the same. It’s a gift. Additionally, her wit and brutal honesty are refreshing, and lends to the greatest of laughs!
After getting pleasantries out of the way, Alexis ordered El Chignon. This was an obvious decision as it is her drink of choice at Tanta. El Chignon is crafted with Tanteo Jalapeño Infused Blanco Tequila, Los Amantes Mezcal, lime, a rocoto ice sphere, and garnished with cilantro. What is a rocoto ice sphere, you may ask? Rocoto is a spicy pepper native to Peru. The rocoto pepper is infused in water, then frozen into spheres, resulting in an orange ice sphere, speckled in red dots. The cocktail gradually packs more heat as the sphere melts, as opposed to most cocktails which continually lose flavor as ice melts watering a cocktail down. The ice sphere is practical, tasty, and aesthetically pleasing. I have to agree with Alexis, El Chignon is a must order at Tanta.
Perusing the menu (no pun intended!), it is clear that celebrity Chef Gastón Acurio takes great pride in preserving the authenticity of Peruvian food. However, this version of authenticity is unique, as emigration in the 1800s from Japan, China, Spain, and Italy to Peru was widespread, resulting in an infusion of the nation’s culinary cultures into Peruvian cuisine. But, at the heart of Peruvian cuisine likes a focus on fresh ingredients native to Peru.
A dish featuring fresh seafood is a common way to begin the day in Peru, and Tanta is regularly praised for its ceviche dishes. Far be it from us to stray from this culinary custom, Alexis and I decided upon the Ceviche Clasico from the lunch menu instead of the brunch ceviche, the Leche De Tigre Clasico. The Ceviche Clasico includes sweet potato in the dish, which Alexis loved.
The Ceviche Clasico is a delicate blend of raw seasonal fish marinated and doused in leche de tigre, cilantro, Habañero peppers, choclo, and of course, sweet potato. Leche de Tigre translates to “tiger’s milk,” and is the Peruvian word referring to the citrus-based marinade for fish in a ceviche dish. Leche de tigre is also said to cure even the most horrific of hangovers. The dish was delightfully light, yet satisfying. The seafood was oh-so fresh, and each bite was delicate and tender. While minimal, the sweet potato soaked up the leche de tigre and tied the dish together. Alexis was on point once again.
Alexis and I finished our beverages and both chose to be adventurous with our next choice. Alexis ordered a Pisco Sour, which is a quintessential Peruvian cocktail. It is one of the most-ordered drinks on the cocktail menu, along with El Chignon. Just like my sunglass mishap, I made an uncharacteristic decision to try a gin drink, La Guapa. I typically stay far away from gin, as the pine needle flavor absolutely repulses me, however, La Guapa at Tanta was certainly not your run-of-the-mill gin drink. La Guapa is made with lavender gin, rhubarb, lemon, and Anna de Codorniu brut rosé. The gin used is CH Key Gin from local Chicago distillery, CH Distillery & Cocktail Bar. The reason this gin didn’t taste like gin is because it’s infused with lavender oil, which completely cuts the pine flavor. I was in heaven, as lavender is one of my very favorite smells and flavors.
The first dish we ordered from the brunch menu was the Chicharron & Tamal. This dish features crispy pork belly, and fried yucca croquettes on a bed of quinoa and mote tamal, topped with with huacatay sauce, and criolla salad. I have zero patience for poorly cooked pork belly. If a restaurant can’t prepare it well, please do not include it on the menu. This is not the case for Tanta. The pork belly had a wonderfully crisp exterior, with tender meat that fell right off the bone.
As great as the pork belly was, I can not say the same for the fried yucca croquettes. The croquettes were dry, bland, and overly starchy. As yucca is a root vegetable, I expected some starch, but not quite this strong. I smothered my next bite of yucca croquettes in the Huacatay sauce, a Peruvian black mint sauce which had the consistency of pesto. This made the fried yucca croquettes much more appetizing.
Alexis is a who Bitch loves her chilaquiles. The Tanta chilaquiles were made with with lomo saltado, which is a traditional Peruvian marinated steak, as well as a roasted tomatillo sauce, fresh cheese, corn tortillas, and fried eggs. While Alexis and I munched on the chilaquiles, we did establish they were not our favorite dish of the meal, nor a top contender for Alexis’ favorite chilaquiles of 2017. Considering the exciting dishes that Tanta has to offer, we were surprisingly underwhelmed by this dish.
The winning dish without question is the Chaufa Aeropuerto. Chaufa Aeropuerto is the Peruvian take on pork fried rice, and it is unreal. The rice is fried with pork, shrimp, seasonal vegetables, and spicy garlic, topped with a perfectly cooked egg omelette, that is then chopped and mixed table side. The buttery spicy garlic is evenly distributed throughout the dish creating a savory and delicious flavor. It was the best fried rice I have tasted, and I was so glad Alexis forced us to get it, with the additional insistence from our server. There is a reason why this dish is one of the most, if not the most, popular dish on the menu. Some might say it is life changing, and I would have to agree! Don’t skip out on this one, Bitches.
The Bitches say: A. We came away from brunch grateful for the melting pot Peruvian cuisine that Tanta has to offer. Tanta dives head first into blending traditional flavors of Peruvian fare to cultivate a menu that is authentic, and worthy of a top-notch River North restaurant. Additionally, the rooftop at Tanta provides a retreat from the city hustle for a date night, brunch with your Bitches, or to frequent for a phenomenal after work cocktail, El Chignon, and ceviche for a light bite.
118 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60654
Tanta serves weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.