Tatu's menu makes its mark
It's a nightclub, too, but the food is not an afterthought
This is the Hamachi Carpaccio at Tatu Asian Grill on Water Street. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun photo / December 11, 2012)
The pan-Asian restaurant in Power Plant Live, which opened in September 2010, reopened in October after a renovation and menu revamp.
The new space is dimly lit, with a mix of high and low tables taking the place of traditional dining tables and chairs.
Loud music and glamorous decor send the not-so-subtle message that Tatu aspires to be a nightclub — you won't see a giant sculpture of a topless mermaid or mirrored tables at your neighborhood sushi joint. But the restaurant's food and service are much better than what the average club delivers.
Around 7 on a recent Thursday night, the large space was only sparsely filled, with a few barstools and tables shared by small groups of friends and couples tucked in private corners.
We settled at a bar-height table at the front of the restaurant. When the weather is nice, the restaurant's storefront will open to a small deck, creating an indoor-outdoor space overlooking Water Street.
When those warm months arrive, the Tatu drinks menu, dominated by fruity mixed concoctions, will feel more appropriate than it did during our chilly visit. Still, the sake sangria ($9; $7 during happy hour) was nicely balanced and refreshing.
Made with sake, plum wine, litchi and citrus fruits — we tasted a lot of orange — the sangria was sweet, but not aggressively so.
Tatu's revamped menu isn't completely new, but the organization is. Grouped into categories like "starters," "small plates" and "specialties" (which are also small plates), it included lots of options but was a little confusing.
We ordered four dishes to start; they all arrived at once. Our favorite was the hamachi carpaccio ($10). Three super-thin slices of hamachi arrived in a mango ponzu sauce. Topped with a small round of red chili, the fish looked impossibly lovely.
It tasted even better. The simple preparation showed off hamachi's buttery texture. The fish melted on our tongues, playing off the crunch and slight heat of the chilies. Layering acidic, sweet and savory flavors, the ponzu sauce gave the dish oomph.
The sunset roll ($15; $12 during happy hour) was large, but next to the excellent hamachi, it lacked excitement.
It was a perfectly serviceable sushi roll, with rice neatly packed around a fresh and crunchy combination of spicy tuna, chilies, crispy shallots, cucumber and avocado.
But its selling point, a dish of white truffle soy sauce for dipping, didn't deliver on the heady promise of truffle. It may have been masked by the chef's generous hand with wasabi.
The missing truffle was the evening's biggest disappointment — and it really wasn't much of one.
Also on the table were wild mushroom pot stickers ($9; $4.50 during happy hour) and a small plate of spare ribs ($11).
The pot stickers, with earthy mushroom filling and soy citrus butter sauce, felt substantial, despite their small size. The butter was more soy than citrus, making each bite rich and woodsy.
When the spare ribs arrived, we worried that our ladylike chopstick skills might not be up to snuff. Typically, ribs aren't great date food or an ideal nosh in a dark, clubby space like Tatu. Fortunately, the meat on these ribs, glazed with a sweet plum and sesame sauce, was so tender it fell off the bone.
After four small plates, we weren't quite full, so we ordered a plate of calamari ($9; $4.50 during happy hour).