Tantalize Miami, the supper club that opened in South Beach about two weeks ago, is a billed as "South Florida's most unique and sensual dining destination," but what, exactly, does that mean? New Times was invited to experience the new place and, frankly, wasn't sure what to expect. The result is a mix of the sublime and the over-the-top.
The space is decorated in red velvet and gold, as if a Russian oligarch dreamed of an old-fashioned New Orleans bordello. A pass through a small bar leads you upstairs to the main dining and showroom. An intimate stage is hidden by red curtains. The dining room is half filled with young couples, seated side by side (better to see whatever show is in store) under gleaming red crystal chandeliers that cast a ruby glow on everything.
A server delivers a cocktail menu filled with signature cocktails with names like "Tantalizer," "Provocateur," and "Lover." At $17, my Temptress, made with St. George Terroir gin, Domaine de Canton, Aperol, and lemon juice, was a tad on the busy side. A choice from the wine list proved to be more satisfying. The food, however, was surprisingly fine for a dinner-theater venue. Chef Horacio Rivadero, former chef at the District, helms the kitchen, which turns out the ubiquitous international fare with pan-Latin influences. In Rivadero's deft hands, however, old chestnuts such as steak and salmon are flavorful and well presented. It's no wonder Rivadero was a James Beard Award semifinalist and helped the District snag the title of Best New Restaurant in 2014 by New Times.
A simple salad of red and gold beets (to match the decor) popped with the addition of sweet strawberries and a tart berry vinaigrette ($15). Other starters include salmon smoked deviled eggs ($14) that come with the suggestion to use your fingers. Of course, if you want to get in the mood, you'll need oysters. A dozen of the selection of the day will cost $30, with a seafood tower setting you back $150.
Filet mignon churrasco ($36) was served at a perfect temperature. It comes with a block of yuca and heirloom tomato escabeche.
Malta salmon ($31) in a soy glaze is offered on many menus, but what sets this one apart is that it's moist and flavorful instead of the parched wedding entrée.
Quinoa coconut pudding ($10) was pushed hard during dessert time. Although I was leaning toward the guava bread pudding or the dulce de papaya, both the server and manager urgently asked me to experience the pudding, even though quinoa is not exactly my idea of an after-dinner treat. Microflowers and a scoop of house-made ice cream flavored with lucuma, an ancient South American fruit, made the dish look like a mini terrarium. At first bite, it tasted like coconut granola, but the little dessert grew on me.
During all of this eating, an announcement was made to officially introduce the ladies of the night. With that, a line of pretty showgirls dressed in costumes from a revival of the musical Chicago emerged to perform a light grind.
From time to time, the scarlet curtains onstage drew open (much like a peep show) and a vignette played out. Though the story lines were vague, I think one involved Cleopatra and her servants, and another told the tale of a woman who turned into a cat or a wolf. The minishows were entertaining and sultry without being too tacky. Think of them as more like a risqué night on a cruise ship rather than strip show.
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According to our server, the entertainment gets friskier as the night progresses. The last show I saw before I left involved three audience members coming up onstage to be blindfolded and lightly tickled with feathers, while the fourth photographed the vignette for probable inclusion on Facebook.
As I walked out, passing showgirls in pleather bustiers preparing for another scene, I was reminded of a themed restaurant in New York City called Maison de Sade. The venue, located in the Flatiron District, was long ago popular with Wall Streeters looking for a "safe" way to blow off steam. Men and women alike would meet for happy hour and dinner, then indulge in a little "play" that could be ordered off menus at each table — $10 for a light spanking, $20 for bondage, and so forth. I even organized an office party there, where we all pitched in and bought the boss a humiliation (he was asked to take his shirt off while a dominatrix dripped hot wax from a candle on his back). Long before 50 Shades of Grey became a phenomenon, the place was a resounding success — until 9/11, when it and many other businesses shuttered. I recall it as safe, naughty fun. For a slightly risqué date night or a group party, Tantalize could prove just as, well, tantalizing.