Peruvian Swooning

Bright, bold and unusual dishes at Tanta in River North

Chifa, Nikei, huacatay, jalea: Dining at Tanta is an edible vocabulary lesson.

The new River North restaurant is devoted to the cuisine of Peru, a country with vibrant culinary culture and little representation in Chicago. Tanta's creator, Gastón Acurio, is Peru's best-known chef-restaurateur, and the sprawling menu traverses Acurio's native cuisine from mountain to sea, from street vendors to home kitchens.

Along the journey, you'll encounter the influence of Peru's Japanese (Nikei) and Chinese (Chifa) populations. Sample the latter in an enticing cebiche Chifa ($11) flavored with sesame oil, pickled ginger, cilantro and scallions.

Tanta's beef heart anticuchos (Photo: Kaitlyn McQuaid)

Beef heart anticuchos ($9) are street food staples, marinated in vinegar, cumin, garlic and aji panca chiles before a blistering turn on the grill. They're served with potatoes, chimichurri and huacatay, an Andean mint-like herb, "Exactly how they taste in the street in Peru, but refined," says Tanta's chef, Jesus Delgado.

Tanta's leche de tigre ("tiger's milk") is another subject of refinement: "At home it's the juice that runs off the cebiche, but here we puree it all–raw fish, garlic, celery, citrus," says Delgado. It's the flavorful base of Tanta's cebiches and the piquant sauce drizzled atop jalea ($22), a jumble of fried seafood and yuca.

An alternate translation for leche de tigre: liquid gold.