Oral gratification

The porn's gone, but the tapas will make you groan with pleasure.

OUT OF THE HUSK of Capitol Hill's late, great Apple Theater has arisen Tango, a pan-Latin tapas restaurant and sister to the dandy Bandoleone in Eastlake. I mention the former tenant to place it, but also because it's relevant; the beauty of the physical body, long so lustily celebrated at the porn palace, is still amply venerated here. I have never seen such a beautiful staff. I mean stunning, from the servers and hosts down to the last busperson. Their customers ain't bad either, just in from the demimonde and striking against Tango's lusciously fashionable stucco and copper decor. Tango

1100 Pike, 583-0382

Dinner 5:30-11pm daily (lunch to come soon)

AE, MC, V; full bar The result of all this sexy beauty is a kind of aesthetic overload; you will be relieved when shown to your table and handed a (beautiful) menu upon which to narrow your focus. Concentrate on that menu: It offers only four entr饳 but almost 30 tapas selections, among them a smattering of salads, soups, vegetable dishes, cheeses, olives, seafoods, and meats. A substantial meal can be made of two or three of these tapas (which in Spanish means "small plates"), but best not rely on your server to clue you in to the best combos. Our waiters, as it turned out, didn't know much of anything about the menu. Lucky for you I do, having now sampled some two-thirds of the items. From this research, I advise starting with something or two off the cheese and olives list for the table to nosh upon while reading the long menu; they function better as starters than dinners. (We also ordered a carafe of sangria to abet decisiveness; Tango's is excessively sweet and goes down like Kool-Aid. Watch out.) Aceitunas mixtas ($5), an assortment of citrus-marinated Spanish olives, were great, bursting with citrus, and served with smooth aﯬi. Sliced poached pears served with Spain's legendary Cabrales blue cheese ($9.50) offered nice offsetting flavors in a teensy portion. Same for the sensational torta de higos ($8.50), a creamy little cake of goat cheese embedded with pine nuts and grilled figs. Spread thickly on pieces of Tango's good seed-encrusted bread, this confection was sweet and divine. (Our fourth proposed starter, ash-covered Pyrenees goat cheese served with guava marmalade, wasn't available, but our waiter didn't let us know until after we had decided upon it. Grrr.) Off the vegetable menu, we sampled a bowl of vegetable tagine ($8), the classic stew and couscous dish of North Africa featuring cinnamon and cumin. Here it was done in fine, unremarkable fashion. (It is a good dish to order with a bunch of meat or fish selections, however, because it provides a rare starchy counterpoint.) Green beans saut饤 with Serrano ham and garlic ($7.50) arrive lolling half out of their lovely ceramic serving dish, suitably crunchy and drenched in a nice hammy brine. (The ceramics, I might add, contribute to Tango's beautiful landscape.) Tortilla Espa�($7), that greatest hit of tapas bars the world over, is more omeletlike here than elsewhere, with blue potatoes and fresh chives decorating the egg. The two ensaladas we ordered were outstanding, the first a spice-rubbed duck confit affair tossed with seasonal greens, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a warm Jamaican vinaigrette ($9). Savory and rich and enormously texturally satisfying, with wonderfully flavored duck, this one goes on your must-order list. Ditto the ensalada cortada ($10), with layers of stone crab, papaya, cucumber, and quinoa, held together with an icy-cool ginger-mint vinaigrette. What marvelous flavors this plate offered! Even the ring of crushed peanuts around the dish added something essential. (Our waiter told us they were pine nuts.) TANGO'S APPEAL derives from its multitudinous flavors. The little plates offer arrangements of tastes so precise that each dish transcends its size to become a satisfying little universe of its own. This was particularly true of the seafood and meat dishes, which soared. Moroccan charred squid tossed with onion, lemon, and mint ($7.50) was a real crowd-pleaser; its curry and lots of onions perked up the palate. Grilled tiger prawns brushed in pepper and coriander jelly ($9) were piquant and expertly cooked, served over a creamy version of polenta. Scallops swimming in cream with roasted red peppers and Serrano ham ($8.50) had our table swooning. Brazilian coconut and fish stew was very Thai-like—hot and complex, with kisses of lime. As for the meats, we adored the dry-cured Spanish ham served with a dollop of house-made port mustard, a brick of manchego cheese, and sweet grilled apple rings ($9.50)—an elegant quartet when eaten together. Even more elegant was the smoked rabbit tenderloin ($9), which arrived atop a fennel and cumin salad and alongside spicy almonds. I'm still dreaming about these flavors; they simply belonged together. After the thrill-a-minute of these inventive dishes, the entr饳 may appear stodgy. They are, in fact, anything but. A plate of seared ahi tuna, bright rare within, arrived over salt cod whipped potatoes (a grand Iberian gesture) and an artichoke heart-pepper salad in a tangy lemon vinaigrette ($23). Wonderful! Another dish, very moist cumin-dusted rock hen over a nopales ragout and a tomato-chile jus ($18.50), was innovative and delectable; the cactus presented a nice cross between pasta and green beans. The house paella ($20) was exemplary, crusty and well-seasoned and brimming with just-done prawns and clams and whitefish. Likewise the bistec del gaucho ($25), which featured tenderloin so tender it was almost creamy surrounded by red lentils, a jus of smoked ham, and fava beans. (Our waiter told us they were lima beans.) It would be a shame if you let the unknowledgeable service stop you from coming to Tango; this food is intelligent enough to compensate. Instead, don't ask too many questions and order off the following crib sheet: duck salad with green beans and scallops; crab salad with charred squid and rabbit tenderloin. And then—I don't care how full you are—order dessert. We tasted all five, and for sheer carnal gratification the Apple Theater had nothing on these finales. The sparkling fruit soup ($6.50) and iced espresso parfait ($5.50) are splendid for those of more modest appetites. Lustier spirits, however, should head straight for the luscious vanilla-bean flan drizzled with honey caramel ($6.50); or the torta del cielo ($6.50), a vanilla sponge cake soaked in rummy milk and filled with coconut cream, served with fresh berries and edible flowers; or the indescribable El Diablo ($7), a creamy square of bittersweet denser-than-mousse decorated in tequila caramel sauce and burnt meringue. Even though you've been sharing little bites of tapas all night, for dessert—trust me—you'll want your own.

 
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