On any night of the week in Cayman you can taste food from a different corner of the globe – Japanese, Indian, Mexican and Thai are all well represented. Until now, however, there hasn’t been an option specializing in Spanish fare. That’s one reason why Tahu has been greeted with a warm “hola” by local diners.
Located in Caribbean Plaza, on the site of what was formerly the Bistro, this new addition to Seven Mile’s dining scene bills itself as a “Spanish-inspired restaurant and bar with a Caribbean twist.” The twist aspect had me a little concerned, admittedly, as often when restaurants here import an overseas cuisine, it gets diluted or otherwise adapted for a tourist’s palate.
Tahu’s menu reads like a greatest hits compilation of classic tapas, just as you’d find in bars from Malaga to Madrid: gazpacho, jamon iberico, patatas bravas, croquetas. There are also regional specialties, such as Esqueixada, a Catalan salad of shredded salt cod, tomatoes and onions, and that triumvirate of beautiful Spanish ingredients, “pulpo a la gallega” (octopus, paprika, potatoes), originating from Galicia.
The restaurant’s interior is decked out in vibrant yellows and oranges, and is fairly bustling on this Thursday evening, but my dining companion and I opt for the terrace, which we get to ourselves, apart from one other table. With softly glowing table lamps and lively salsa tunes playing in the background, there’s an inviting atmosphere after nightfall that makes you forget the proximity of West Bay Road.
We take our pick from the cocktail list’s creative specials – no piña coladas and Cayman sunsets here, but instead a maracuya sour (pisco, passion fruit, egg white and lime) for me, and a crazy bull (cachaça, peach and lime) for him. Neither is overly sweet, and the fruits taste freshly squeezed.
The first wave of tapas arrives. There are blistered, salt-crusted bite size bitter green peppers, and thick cuts of yellow fin tuna in a piquant vinegar marinade. Montaditos – from the Spanish word for “to mount,” this ubiquitous tapas dish is all about loading the best fresh toppings onto small slices of bread – come topped with sautéed truffled mushrooms.
I’m normally nonplussed by tortillas (basically a fat omelet, right?) but Tahu’s are stuffed with a mound of such soft, buttery, melt-in-the-mouth potato and onions, and a dollop of a luscious aioli on top, that I re-think this assessment. My friend samples the beef skewers and proclaims that I should consider breaking my pescatarian diet to try them. Instead, I order us the cheese board, which features three perfectly contrasting varieties: a nutty, mature manchego; mild, milky mahon; and a tangy, crumbling barbarian blue.
Considering they are small sharing portions, Tahu’s prices may seem on the steep side (up to $18 per plate), but these are refined, elevated tapas made with high quality ingredients. Classic Spanish cuisine celebrates simplicity, letting a few fresh ingredients shine. Nothing demonstrates this better than the humble “pan con tomate,” where the juiciest, ripest tomatoes and toasted bread need only a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a rub of garlic and sprinkling of coarse sea salt to really shine. Luckily, Tahu’s chefs haven’t tried to mess with this equation.
In my book, tapas-style dining is also a winner for letting you try the most flavors and avoid food envy. But for those who don’t like to share, the menu also lists main courses, such as seafood paellas, fideuà (made with noodles rather than rice) and rich meat stews.
What about that promised Caribbean twist? Rather than any obvious attempt at fusion food, the local influence comes through in the choice of ingredients, highlighting what is seasonally available in Cayman. For example, one of the specials was agouti, a guinea pig-like wild animal that you can occasionally glimpse in the Botanic Park, and even less often on restaurant menus. For the ‘Padrón’ peppers, they substituted the typical little dark green variety for some longer, paler type of local chili.
Dessert again keeps it simple with just three offerings, the star of which is a creamy, delicately spiced “arroz con leche” (rice pudding).
Service is warm, relaxed and extremely attentive, with both servers constantly checking in about how things were tasting – one could say it was erring on a little too keen, yet that’s always preferable to disinterested, of course.
And in true Spanish style, Tahu keeps serving late into the night, closing at midnight from Monday to Saturday. I can certainly see myself returning for a sangria nightcap or languorous Mediterranean-style lunch. ¡Salud! to this newcomer.
Tahu is located in Caribbean Plaza on West Bay Road. Call 233-2233 for reservations or visit www.tahu.ky. Opening hours: Mon-Sat, noon-midnight. Closed on Sundays.