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Kaka'ako Eats: Tango Contemporary Cafe

Like the name implies, Tango Contemporary Cafe is a chic and modern eatery located on the ground floor of the also ultra chic and modern Hokua Tower. They’re tucked away at the back-end side of the building where you’ll have to look to your left if coming from Auahi Street, with their nextdoor neighbor being PF Chang’s China Bistro. Both what I think are very complimentary to one another in sophistication and style, with Tango having a step more casual feel to it.

Let’s have a look around inside…

According to the Honolulu Advertiser, the The artwork on the wall are Marimekko Unikko panels, classic floral fabrics from Finland.  These, a tribute to Tango’s part owner and chef Göran Streng who has roots there. While making the “Two to Tango” dance happen is his partner Tami Orozco who was there making sure customers were all taken care of, including ourselves on this visit.

Well I’m starving. Let’s see what’s for lunch…

There’s also cocktails, beer and an extensive wine list…

There’s so many to choose, they actually have two of these wine refrigerator cabinets…

Getting to our late lunchtime order, between me and my girlfriend we ordered three dishes to share, starting with the Hamakua Mushroom Risotto with Asparagus

Hamakua Mushroom Risotto with Asparagus and Garlic Shrimp. $11.50

Going back to basics, we also decided to try their Traditional Club Sandwich...

Traditional Club Sandwich with Turkey, Bacon, Avocado, Lettuce and Tomato on Toasted Wheat Bread. 7.95

Believe it or not, Tango’s Traditional Club Sandwich is 30 cents cheaper than the Clubhouse Sandwich from Zippy’s takeout counter. How’s that!  The prices here across the board are very reasonable considering the level of sophistication they’re at. Very nice.

Sandwiches include your choice of mixed baby green salad or fries, where we went with fries.

Finally, we chose the daily special of the day, the Dill-Battered Barramundi in Nori Bun with Tartar Sauce

Dill-Battered Barramundi with Nori Bun and Tartar Sauce. $12.50

We both had never heard of Barramundi before, which come to find out is an Asian Seabass. Our server likened its flavor to Halibut, which if is the case, is A-OK with me.

I’ll start the sampling session here with the Barramundi, which is deep-fried in a delicate beer batter-like coating that’s generously laced with Dill Weed, which I LOVE. I love, love, love Dill weed, especially with salmon or mixed in with pasta. Good stuff.

It’s presented here as a sandwich, served with a unique bun that’s sprinkled generously with nori flakes that are added before it’s baked, so it’s nice and crispy…

Here’s a closer look at that Nori Bun…

That is very cool. While it looks and sounds interesting, along with everything sandwiched between, it TASTES great! The roasted nori adds a subtle earthiness to the supple, very fresh bun, while its crispy texture replicates what your tongue might expect as if the bun were topped with sesame seeds. Then when you taste the roasted nori it’s like “Wow, that’s interestingly delicious!”

While there isn’t one on the menu, they should come up with a burger that uses this bun. Oh, like a teriyaki burger would be a good start. Or perhaps a ground Ahi burger with it. The owner said they’re sourced from a local baker, not made in-house. Whoever makes it did good on this one. Maikai!

Getting back to the Barramundi, here’s a peak inside after cutting the end off..

Witness how moist and fall-apart tender it is. You KNOW this is gonna’ be GOOD!

Oh – My – God. It is SOOOOOOOO delicious. Yum-num-num-num-num-num-num-num. lol Seriously, this is one of the best “fish ‘n chips-in-a-bun” I’ve ever had. In fact, you could just as well sans the bun and veggies, put the two big Dill-battered Barramundi fillets on the fries and eat is as Fish ‘N Chips. I just might do that next time, as this would easily be in contention to win the Best Fish ‘N Chips in Honolulu Award.

Yet as a sandwich with that fantastic lightly toasted (very important!) Nori Bun, the crispy-fresh veggies and a generous slathering of the included tartar sauce makes one amazing Fish Sandwich.

The Barramundi tastes like a cross between Monchong, Mahimahi and Ono, having the flavors of Ono in the white parts, Mahimahi in the pink parts and the overall fattiness of Monchong. That’s the best way I can describe it.

At least on this particular order, they cooked it right at medium-rare, which is exactly how I like my fish cooked. Anything more and it’s as good as fish jerky, just like a beef steak would be at that point.

Thankfully not in this case, where it was as succulent and juicy-tender as can be, or as I often like to say, “Like buttah”.

Then you have that delicately light and crispy, slightly chewy beer batter (although its not called that) that’s laced generously with dill weed, which you could actually taste along with the fish and wasn’t just there for appearance. Fish and dill are such a perfect pairing and with the deep fried Asian Seabass it was no exception.

Love, love, loved it!

As for the fries, they’re also fantastic, arriving piping hot right out of the fryer. They’re a nice and thick cut, which is how I always prefer it, while being delicately moist and tender inside and delicately crispy and golden delicious outside, with just the right amount of salt sprinkled on it. Folks on Yelp said Tango also makes a mighty fine burger, so that with these fries would also be a rockin’ pair.

All sandwiches also include a side dish including a dill pickle on a bed of shredded carrots mixed with raisins they call a “relish”….

The shredded carrot and raisin mixture tastes like they’re pickled with what may be mirin and rice vinegar. Something like that. I forgot to ask how its made, but it’s pretty good, acting as a nice palate buffer to the multi-dimensional sandwich.

Summing up the entire dish, I give Tango’s Barramundi with Nori Bun a super-duper, krazy tasty fish ‘n chips-turned-“sammy” 5-SPAM Musubi. Awesome.

Moving on to the Traditional Club, this was also executed perfectly….

The crispy fried bacon and turkey tasted like premium quality stuff, while the lettuce and tomato was also crisp and fresh. The wheat bread was supple inside with a lightly toasted surface, and slathered on the insides with just the right amount of mayo’. Don’t you hate when there’s either too much mayo’ or not enough? Not in this case. They usually put way more Avocado in it, but my girlfriend requested they go light on the Avo’ as she’s not a fan of that. Bummers. I am!

That’s OK, it was still good, earning Tango’s Traditional Club Sandwich 3 SPAM Musubi. Probably would have gotten a 4 had I had it how they normally serve it with the generous Avocado.

For our final dish of the day, we have the Hamakua Mushroom Risotto with Asparagus and Garlic Shrimp…

You can opt for chicken or garlic shrimp, which of course we’re going for the latter. Let’s have a closer look what’s inside by plating some separately…

The Risotto had a wonderfully light and creamy texture and flavor while the parmesan cheese sprinkled on top helped give it some “oomph”. The only problem we had with it was that the rice was undercooked and still a bit starchy and firm. It needed at least 5 more minutes of cooking and it would have been perfect. The earthy and buttery sauteed Hamakua Mushrooms of course was the life of the party, as was the generous helpings of tender cut asparagus spears.

The Garlic Shrimp were each peeled and deveined with tails on and sauteed to perfection…

Garlic Shrimp just doesn’t get better than this. Ono to da’ max.

With that, regardless of the slightly undercooked rice (an easy fix), with the wonderful marriage of all the elements coming together, I still give their Hamakua Mushroom Risotto with Asparagus and Garlic Shrimp an “everything tastes great with mushrooms in it”, highly recommended 4-SPAM Musubi.

It was really difficult coming to a final decision on what to order as just about everything on the menu sounds so good! I was out on a limb in getting Chef Göran’s Signature Open Faced Gravlax Sandwich on Finnish Rye Bread.Thankfully, Diner AC ordered that in a past visit, which she got a photo of with her camera phone here…

She said this sandwich is excellent, so I’ll probably end up getting that on my next visit. Her grandma got the Open Faced Shrimp Salad Sandwich with Avocado, Tomato and Cucumber, which also was well received…

I also had my eyes on the Ham, Salami and Brie Cheese sandwich on Garlic Naan Bread.

With so many great sounding choices, I almost got a fourth dish but knew that would be too much for just the two of us and didn’t wanna’ have too much leftovers.

I got a look of some of the salads that other diners were ordering and must say, those looked AMAZING as well. And HUGE.

With the three fairly generously portioned dishes we had, we were so stuffed, leaving no room for dessert, so we didn’t get any.

That’s OK, as we’ll most definitely be returning to Tango for repeat visits to try more dishes. In fact, this was like the fourth time my girlfriend has been here, as she’s the one who highly praised and recommended it to me.

Our service was also excellent, with very friendly and attentive staff, while our entire order arrived in less than 15 minutes.  This with the place about 25% capacity during our visit late in the afternoon about 3:30pm.

Parking is free in the Hokua Tower with validation from the restaurant.

We’re very impressed with Tango, as it made our taste buds dance the dance. The menu is exciting, unique and executed with a level of sophistication, refinement and attention to detail that makes each dish shine. Best of all the prices across the board are very reasonable, while the Eurasian themed decor and overall ambiance is clean, comfortable and relaxing.  Highly recommended.

Tango Contemporary Cafe
1288 Ala Moana Blvd
Suite 120 (on the ground floor of the Hokua Tower, next door to the left of PF Chang’s Chinese Bistro. Free parking with validation in the building)
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814
Tel. 593-7288

The Tasty Island rating:

Related links:
•  The House on Tango Street – Honolulu Weekly, October 8, 2008
•  Dancing the Finnish Tangö – Honolulu Magazine, April 2008
•  Doing The Tango At Hokua – MidWeek, March 19, 2008
•  Honolulu will be doing the Tangö – Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 9, 2008
•  KHON Morning News – KHON2, March 5, 2008
•  Tango will have guests’ taste buds dancing – Honolulu Advertiser, March 2, 2008
•  Tango Contemporary Cafe – Yelp User Reviews

P.S. Here’s a few photos of this massive white horse statue gracing the front of PF Chang’s next door…

Could it be a Trojan Horse with little Gnomes hiding in there ready to attack? Ack!

3 thoughts on “Kaka'ako Eats: Tango Contemporary Cafe

  • January 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    I’m not certain about the dill on that fish, but I’d be willing to chance it–because I literally had a Pavlovian response looking at the sandwich and fries photos. I am guessing that the mahi sandwich is probably good too. Next time my friends try to make me go to P.F. Chang’s, I’ll argue for Tango instead.

  • January 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    I’ve been to Tango several times for lunch and dinner, and liked it every time. Love that club sandwich. The combination of good, quality food and very reasonable prices makes the place a definite winner.

    I’ve been meaning to try that mushroom risotto, so after seeing your review, Pomai, that’s what I’m going for next time (taking a chance that it’s cooked a little longer). That is, unless they have that dill-battered barramundi sandwich on the specials list!

  • January 23, 2010 at 7:04 am

    Brian, I know several people who have been to Tango a number of times now, and mentioned that every time they went, while the service was sometimes a hit-or-miss, the food was always spot-on. For me, I’d rather have great food and suck service then the other way around. So Tango’s got their priorities straight in that regard.

    Spotty, if your friends don’t agree with you about trying Tango, throw a major fit! They’d really be missing out. Good, good food.


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