Miami restaurant review: Food dazzles but show disappoints at Tantalize in South Beach

Salmon from Tantalize and chef Horacio Rivadero.
Salmon from Tantalize and chef Horacio Rivadero.

Sometimes I feel like I live on the Vegas Strip.

I’m usually happy to share our beaches and restaurants (though not necessarily our roads) with sun-seekers and party hounds. But I’m less enthused when a place, like the unfortunately named Tantalize in South Beach, is clearly aimed at wooing out-of-towners. 

This newcomer opened next door to Set nightclub in a narrow double-decker space on Lincoln Road that I’ve seen swallow up a few ambitious predecessors, including Rumi and The Strip.

The latest incarnation is billed as a “sensual dining destination,” proffering PG-rated mini-shows that fail to tantalize.

Thankfully, the food is great; better than it has to be — the star of the show. Under the skillful hands of Horacio Rivadero, it’s no wonder. He is a chef I have been championing for the past five years, when I first tasted his work at OLA Miami under Doug Rodriguez, then at The Dining Room and again at The District.

I couldn’t help being charmed by a basket of warm cheese breads, like the addictive pao de queijo, those lovely cheesy puffs so popular Brazil.

Our waiter rightfully encouraged us to order the exquisite lamb meatballs: rich and heartwarming nuggets in a silken sauce of foie gras spiked with sherry. A slender herb- and seed-encrusted crouton lent a good crunch, and a chunky pistachio chimichurri gave it bite.

Baccalito fritters are light, golden, greaseless spheres tossed on top of local greens, radishes, buttery avocado and beefy heirloom tomatoes. A stunning ceviche of scallop is as dramatic as a first sunrise, with slivers of red onion and spicy broth with a fleeting flash of sorbet like a rainbow.

Four tacos served cold in a crispy shell made of malanga are stuffed with tender cords of sweet and smoky octopus and fresh, salady slaw. All of the apps we sampled were great for sharing — even-numbered and bite-size.

Mains included the so-called Cuban Boxer, which is reminiscent of a dish I fell in love with years ago by Rivadero. Here it includes a tender-as-puppy-love pork shoulder with a smooth paste of black-bean puree and a mound of pickled cabbage salad that could have been slightly more acidic but still worked as a foil for the velvety and delightfully unctuous meat.

Ubiquitous salmon gets a dramatically golden-seared crust and a juicy interior served over a chewy and nutty side bed of farro. Fresh elements, including shaved brussels sprouts, peas and pea shoots, are strewn confetti-like on the plate.

Green coconut salad is another gorgeous composition, a nest of spindly greens tossed with crisp matchsticks of chayote, peppers and onions all in a bracingly fresh coconut vinaigrette.

The hearty, homey tacu tacu — essentially refried rice and bean cake — is gussied up with coconut oil and a no-joke spicy aji amarillo sauce, winning over a vegetarian in our group.

Desserts are fine but don’t quite measure up to the savory fare. A grainy quinoa coconut pudding with a partially melted puddle of pretty pumpkin-hued lucuma ice cream reminded me of breakfast at the ashram, while a flan ice cream with sweet, crunchy walnuts was worth a bite, especially with a flourish of guava foam.

I find Tantalize’s menu to be a bit all over the place. The descriptions hopscotch between fish, fowl and beef entrees with no order or logic. Influences come from Peru, Malta, Japan, Spain, Cuba and Argentina. Not to mention the many spelling mistakes on the menu. It’s confit, not comfit. Wagyu, not Wagu.

As good as everything is, prices seem geared for expense accounts. Pork cheek arepas: $16. Twelve-ounce New York strip: $48. A plank of cobia: $35. Fried rice and lima bean patty: $24. At least there’s no entertainment charge.

The narrow dining room is done up in more red velvet than a Paula Deen birthday bash. Upholstered walls and cheesy red-glass sconces dangle like cheap earrings.

During our two-and-a-half-hour dinner, we watched about 10 minutes of talent, and I do use that term loosely.

A very limber girl in a nubby cat suit pranced around for a few eight-counts, did a split and struggled to hoist her leg into a needle. A pair of showgirls in blue feathered get-ups walked across the stage and posed, covered their faces with the feathers and left. Really, not the cutting-edge performances promised on the restaurant’s website.

On the bright side, by-the-glass wine selections are decent and generously poured. Cocktails are interesting.

Servers are friendly but about as professional as the on-stage talent. They seem to still be rehearsing.

Tantalize has been a feature on Groupon for a few weeks now. Not necessarily a good sign for the restaurant, but a great chance for locals to give it a go without spending $300 for date night. 

Better yet: Wait for a friend to come to town for a convention, and have them pick up the tab.

Victoria Pesce Elliott dines anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense: @VictoriaPesceE