Eat This Now: Chaufa Aeropuerto at Tanta
I owe Tanta an apology. When I put together my list of the best new restaurants of 2013, I failed to include the Peruvian restaurant, because I just hadn't found the time to visit. I felt genuinely bad about the slight, and mentioned at the time that I hoped to catch up with it in 2014. Then came two polar vortexes and five feet of snow, and when combined with a hectic new parent schedule, it wasn't until last week that I finally made good on that promise. I hope Tanta will accept my apology, because not only would it have made my list, I think it is one of the most exciting restaurants in River North right now.
What it does best is showcase the incredible diversity of Peruvian cuisine. I think it all comes together with the chaufa aeropuerto ($23). The dish is listed under the "Del Chifa" part of the menu, which notes that "in the 1800s, the people from Canton immigrated to Peru and brought with them their amazing culinary culture." Fortunately, it's not the home of the Football Hall of Fame, but another name for Guangzhou in southeast China. That explains why there is pork fried rice. You can't see it because of the light and fluffy shrimp omelet sitting on top, which my waiter dutifully mixed up once I snapped a picture. It's all served in a stone bowl, which lends the rice on the bottom the same crunchy texture that you find in the best bibimbap.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the different components, I felt the pure rush of discovery, which caused me to hunker down and eat way more of this than one person should. Only the allure of Tanta's other enticing offerings pulled me out of my stupor.