By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
An entrée of thick, almost rectangular sticks of "wok-lacquered" duck breast had a meatier, steaklike taste and texture to it than the slender slices more commonly served. Quite delectable, but the "tamarind chili glaze" that coated the bird tasted suspiciously like "hoisin barbecue sauce," which was supposed to come with the baby lamb chops. In either case it was close to being cloying. An accompanying sushi rice cake was worse than cloying: It was spoiled. The waiter handled the matter gracefully, offering us a different starch of our choosing.
We chose a delicious black Thai rice, darkened with soy and tamari, that we had already tasted on a prior trip to Tambo, when it had come beside a black grouper wrapped and steamed in banana leaf with ginger, sesame seeds, lemon grass, and tamari. The fish was fresh and flavorful enough but, unlike the rice, not particularly noteworthy. Sugar-cane-skewered, ginger-glazed blue prawns with mango ceviche; seared sea bass with vegetable pad thai; and pan-roasted filet mignon with huancaina purée, five-spiced onions, and caramelized scallion-garlic butter are some enticing main courses we didn't get to try.
A crème brélée sampler, presented as tiny cups of citron, ginger, mango, and Mandarin-chocolate custards with lightly brittle tops, was satisfactory. Can't say the same for the four fried, orange-scented doughnut sticks with condensed milk, a flawed and expensive take on the traditional Thai dessert. The doughnuts were dry and bland, the condensed milk boosted with orange flavor but thinned to a drippy consistency -- a dozen Krispy Kremes and can of condensed milk would have been infinitely better and would have cost much less than $9. I suppose Tambo's prices are what you'd expect: high. Sushi runs $7 to $11, ceviches $8 to $15, tiraditos $7 to $12, and entrées $21 to $29. This shouldn't stand in the way of the restaurant's success, its affluent clientele being exactly the type who won't mind paying $9 for a few doughnuts.
When Alejandro Sucre and Don Hatch opened the original Tambo in Caracas fifteen years ago, it was an immediate hit. Alina Ramirez has joined the ownership team here at this Tambo, which also has been attracting a sizable crowd -- especially after 10:00 p.m. The ceviche/sushi idea is brilliant, both foods wildly popular and perfectly suited for this climate, but this infant restaurant has some growing up to do. The kitchen needs to be more consistent, the cuisine less hit-or-miss in quality. The waiters, as I've mentioned, require better training. It might also help to turn up the thermostat a bit, make the early-evening music less like Muzak, and convince the people taking reservations over the phone to try sounding as though they don't have a hundred better things to be doing. For the time being, let's consider Tambo a tantalizing work in progress.