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Presentation is picture-perfect at Tatu. That’s not to say that taste takes second place to appearance. Quality ingredients and skillful preparation provide freshness and flavor. Three chefs share the kitchen, giving diners a choice of classic and innovative Asian culinary styles.
By Jana Soeldner Danger
Presentation is picture-perfect at Tatu, an Asian restaurant at the Paradise entertainment complex on the grounds of the Seminole Hardrock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. Nearly all the beautifully sculpted dishes turn heads when waiters pass by with them, and the varied colors and shapes of the food become artistic accents to the restaurant’s neutral décor.
That’s not to say that taste takes second place to appearance. Quality ingredients and skillful preparation provide freshness and flavor. Three chefs share the kitchen, giving diners a choice of Asian culinary styles. Chef Kaoru Ishii, formerly of Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills, designs the beautifully plated sushi rolls. Chef Kam Choi Chan, formerly of the Mandarin Oriental’s Café Sambal, and Executive Chef Jo Ann Plympton prepare both classic and innovative Asian-inspired fare, including Szechwan, Cantonese, and Mandarin cuisines.
The Hard Rock’s Paradise entertainment complex has grown rapidly into a virtual village of upscale shops, restaurants and bars. Outdoors, live music, jugglers and acrobats entertain passersby. It’s a fun place to stroll in the evening on the way to or from dinner, even if you don’t intend to go near the tables or slots in the hotel itself.
Tatu’s spare, modern décor features lots of beige, metallic gray, and black, accented here and there with reds and whites. Crushed quartz flooring and walls inlaid with gold leaf add an understated elegance. Tables have hard-surface tops, and are closely spaced along the banquettes in the central dining room. For those who prefer privacy, larger round tables can be partially closed off with metal mesh curtains. Light comes from glass cubes descending from a sculpture-like metal base.
Lighted, red glass panels add drama to the sushi bar, certainly Tatu’s visual focal point. In a touch of whimsy, classic black-and-white Asian films are silently projected on the wall above.
Tatu has a varied wine list, as well as a selection of chilled, filtered and unfiltered sakes by the glass or bottle. For those out to impress a date, there are showy cocktails such as the scorpion bowl for two, and yes, it is served in a large, sparkling glass bowl with two straws, rather than a glass. The meal ends with one more whimsical touch – each diner receives a colorful cloud of cotton candy perched in a wine glass – reminiscent of fairs and carnivals and circuses, the sweet treat tends to bring smiles even to those who forgo actually eating it.
We began with several sushi rolls. A spicy yellowtail roll was a flavorful combination of snapper, mango and scallion rolled inside out and served with a spicy sauce. Utah roll was another inside-out version, this one shrimp tempura topped with tasty crab salad and wrapped with tuna. A spider roll featuring soft-shell crab was a nice combination of soft and chewy-crunchy textures. In all the sushi we tried, fish was high quality and very fresh, the rice just the right consistency, and the presentation artistic enough so we almost felt bad destroying it by eating the plump, tasty rolls.
Our favorite starter was the wild mushroom pot stickers ($9). Instead of the usual soft dumplings, these had a slightly crispy, pan -fried outside wrapper. The wonderful filling was a mix of enoki, shitaki, portabello, and button mushrooms made with plenty of garlic, and served with soy lemon sauce. The accompanying baby asparagus was nicely crisp-tender.
Calamari salad ($13) was a large plate of crispy mixed greens studded with fresh calamari that had been dusted lightly with flour before being lightly stir-fried. The salad, bathed in a tasty ginger dressing, could be a meal.
Mandarin duck ($25) was excellent. The meat was crispy outside, yet moist and richly flavored inside, and beautifully accented with a simple sauce of black vinegar, cream and sugar. A fruit compote added the right amount of tartness to the earthy taste of the duck.
The only slight disappointment of the evening was the shrimp pad thai ($20). The wok seared rice noodles made with egg, scallion and crushed peanuts were fine, but the dish contained very little shrimp.
A chocolate pagoda ($9) drew admiring looks as it passed through the dining room. Frangiapan mousse layered of fudge brownies, caramel, and chocolate and vanilla creams are sculpted into a pagoda mini-model. For my taste, the brownies could have been darker chocolate, but the dessert was still quite pleasing.
Rich, creamy coconut crème brulee ($7) was served with key lime butter cookies. Our favorite finish was the ginger snap ice cream sandwich ($7). Chewy, delectable house-made ginger snaps were layered with rich vanilla ice cream and served with a compote of poached peaches, fresh ginger,and mint.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find parking in the lot conveniently adjacent to the Paradise complex. (If not, there’s always plenty of room in the garage at the west end of the hotel.) Make an evening of it, taking time to stroll the grounds and enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere outside.