Friday, May 23, 2008

Travel Dish: Tangö Contemporary Café (Honolulu)

Looking for a Dance Partner at Tangö
1288 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu
At the Hokua complex near Ward Centre
PH: 808.593.7288
Open weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; weekends, 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there’s a new restaurant opening almost every month. But in Honolulu, the restaurant scene is pretty stable, which is why many of the popular restaurants remain popular for several years.

So when my brother mentioned a new restaurant during my recent trip to Honolulu, we went to give it a try. Tangö Contemporary Café had been open for just 10 weeks when I went with my brother and mom. And to give you an idea of how hungry locals are for a new place to try, we couldn’t get a decent reservation on a Saturday night. We were left with the “early bird” reservations of 5:30 p.m.

First an explanation of the name; it’s not a Latin American-influenced restaurant with images of sexy Latins doing the tango. Instead, the name is a combination of the first names of the two partners, Tami (“Tan”) Orozco and Executive Chef Göran (“Gö”) Streng. Both worked together at the Hawaii Prince Hotels, one of the island’s luxury hotels.

The restaurant is located in a new luxury condominium tower called the Hokua near the Ward Centre Shops. It’s right next door to a P.F. Chang’s. (I was a bit surprised to find a P.F. Chang’s in Honolulu given all the decent Chinese restaurants.)

Tangö Café is definitely influenced by Streng’s Scandinavian background. The interior is stark white with faux birch trees and contemporary wall hangings. It feels light and airy, but sometimes in Hawaii “airy” can be too much when the setting sun is blasting through the front windows and washing the place with the strong beams of light.

We happened to be seated at a table right in the path of a setting beam, and we requested to be seated elsewhere. Since we had an early reservation, we were among the first to arrive so other tables haven’t filled yet. But the hostess wasn’t very accommodating. Sure, she acted nice, but you could tell that she’s the type of person that has a list of things to do and doesn’t like to change the list mid-stream. So having to rearrange guests at tables was too much for her brain to handle. While apologetic, she would not offer up an empty table to make our dining experience pleasant.

This non-accommodating service was an indicator of the dinner ahead. Granted, the place has only been open for a little over two months so they still need to work out the service kinks. But at times it was like they weren’t even trying. Our main waiter only took our orders and we never saw him again. Tables next to us got their orders even though they arrived after us. And the general attitude of the people who served us could be described as “spooked.” They looked and acted afraid. (I have to say I did see one waiter on the other side who looked calm, cool and professional. But he was the only one.)

But what about the food? Streng’s menu is a mix of his Scandinavian roots and his years working in Hawaii cooking Asian and Pacific Rim cuisine. It actually was a menu that I favor, which is organic, seasonal dishes with light sauces.

We started with the Portobello Mushroom and Crab Hash Napoleon with Spinach ($8.50). I imagined a stack of thinly sliced mushrooms with crab hash in between. But instead we got Portobello mushrooms with just a bit of crab meat. It didn’t say Napoleon in my mind, and the flavor was just average.

For dinner, you can order ala carte or there’s a dinner special where you can add a soup or salad to your entrée along with a bowl of sorbet for just an extra $6.50. So that’s what I did when I ordered an entrée of Sterling Silver Pork Chop. I opted for the soup of the day (potato and leek), which was tasty and full of flavor but a bit chunky. I don’t know if it was the chef’s idea to give it a rustic feel or if he just got lazy and only pureed the soup half way. If you’re going to puree, I feel the soup should be silky.

My brother ordered the Asian-style Five Spice Braised Beef with pureed potato and chili fried onion rings ($18.50). The meat was perfectly cooked, just fork tender. And while the flavor was nice, it had no hint of five spice. If I closed my eyes, the flavors wouldn’t remind me of Asia. Still, it was filling.

My mom ordered the Mustard Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with roasted garlic thyme jus and onion mashed potato ($23.00). The lamb was cooked to order and had a nice full flavor. My pork chop was a nice big chop and the mushroom ragout was OK, but it wasn’t anything exceptional. (Also, the pork was a bit rear near the bone, so it was unevenly cooked.)

For desserts, my brother ordered the crepes with fresh fruits and vanilla bean ice cream ($5.50) and I got my bowl of sorbet, which that day was lilikoi flavor, a popular island flavor that’s the same as passion fruit.

The lilikoi sorbet was pleasant and refreshing, a nice palate cleanser. The crepe was cooked nice and thin with tasty fruits, but again, it wasn’t anything special.

When we left, my brother debated about whether he would return again. The food was decent and the price reasonable, but was it worth sitting through such mundane service? It’s hard to say. Maybe the service will improve with experience, and the food might get more refined as the place gains popularity, challenging the chef to do more. But since I don’t live there, I can’t watch the evolution of Tangö Café. With so little turnover in Hawaii, it may still be there when I visit again in the future. But will it be great? That remains a mystery.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (wait till they work out the service kinks)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Tango Contemporary Cafe on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Chef Ben, the food looks really good, but I hate it when the host (front line person, hello? first impressions really count) is like that! And servers who aren't comfortable are unnerving to me... Well, hopefully they'll have ironed out the kinks by the next time.