Tapas at Tantalo, Panama City. Twice.

I have a new favourite place. It’s called Tantalo and is, indeed, tantalising… It’s not exactly next door from home – it is about 10,000km from Toulouse, in Panama City – so I decided to make the most of my short stay and eat there twice. 

Sigh. I’m so full, I may end up typing with my gut…

The Casco Viejo – the historical old town – of Panama City has been absolutely enchanting. I wasn’t sure what to expect after a few days in Honduras and Nicaragua, but what I have discovered is a vibrant, buzzing place somewhere between Switzerland and Cuba, with a Miami-like skyline on one side, and a beautiful Colonial-style old town on the other. The Casco is loud with the sounds of renovation works during the day, but come nighttime, the pretty people come out to play and the choice of bars and restaurants is incredible. There is music in the streets…

After a drink at Jeronimo, a bar-cum-art gallery down the street, we headed to Tantalo because Clementina and Grapes looked to be more conservative and slightly uptight places (we tried Grapes last night… we were right…). At Tantalo, they cultivate a kind of lounge-bar, night club atmosphere, with low lighting, loud lounge music and TV screens showing clips of past VIP events at the restaurant (Hence the poor quality of the photos.). The tables are simple varnished wood, but high, with comfortable bar chairs. The decor is incredibly arty, with dozens of hanging light bulbs and a kind of Argus Eyes fresco that takes up most of one wall and part of the ceiling. The noise of chat and music makes it feel informal and like a canteen. You recognize the servers in the fray by their jaunty hats in black and orange.

Let’s talk about the waiters for a minute. The one unifying feature of all the meals I have had this past week in Central America is the terrible service. Some waiters were nice and smiled, but the wait was unanimously too long and more than amateur. Mixed-up orders, forgotten orders, “fresh” fish that failed to thaw on time to be served… My impression was that speed and efficiency are not a priority around here. Not so at Tantalo. Staff speak English as well as Spanish, and some French or Italian. They are clear and professional in their manner, and swift in their execution. In other words, spot on.

Yet, Tantalo’s best feature is definitely the food. They serve tapas-style dishes to share around the table. We tried the following: 

  • Fresh goats’ cheese in spicy tomato coulis
  • Stuffed calamari with capers and onions
  • Diced pork tamale with polenta crust
  • Cheese and cured meat platter
  • Vegetable empanadas
  • Marinated tuna tartare
  • Pan-fried squid
  • Cashew and coconut chicken

          

One was more delicious than the other. None was a disappointment. Hubby and I had a chat with Sous-Chef Juan Perez after the meal to congratulate him on their menu. He was happy to get some feedback. We were happy to get fed. 

  

Another fun feature of Tantalo is their very snazzy roof terrace. They serve food there until 8p.m., only drinks from then on. The view from up there is spectacular, and the atmosphere is as cool and hip as any I have seen. Tonight, Saturday, the bouncers were limiting the number of people on the roof at any given time, so I could not go up for another hour of star-gazing with a Mojito in hand, but I’ll be back in Panama on Tuesday and will not miss my chance then.

As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything but temptation”… or was it “anything but Tantalo”?

   

  

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