Tangiers goes for the speakeasy vibe
Since its first major revival 10 years ago, the Warehouse District, and the North Loop neighborhood in particular, has not stopped evolving — nor has its dining scene. Just as the 222 Hennepin condos were unveiled, complete with a convenient Whole Foods market, residents started researching candidates for their go-to bar. As if in response, the Tangiers, a new eatery and lounge, popped up directly across the street.
Husband-and-wife owners Ivy and Behnad Taheri have clearly invested a lot in the decor of Tangiers, located in the long-dormant Hennepin Steam Building. Dramatic, bright-red high-backed booths line the walls, ornate mirrors frame the main bar, and twinkly chandeliers hang at varying heights over the stairs to the lower level. Overhead beams are draped with fabric, and oversized prints of vaguely flapper-esque ladies decorate the walls.
They've managed to pull off the luxe speakeasy vibe without being too gimmicky. Unfortunately, the team at Tangiers does not pull off the menu with such success. Though the name suggests a menu of Moroccan tagines and saffron-tinted stews, most of the dishes stick to Mediterranean flavor profiles. While everyone loves a creamy little ball of burrata smeared on crusty bread, a pile of glossy olives, or a selection of cured meats, the problem with these safe offerings is that they don't require any cooking. "Minor assembly required" seems to characterize a lot of the food at the Tangiers.
Billing itself as a "small plates eatery" is the first misstep. The best small-plates eateries in Minneapolis are formidable: Nightingale with its almond gazpacho and seared scallops, Rincon 38's exquisite braised pulpo, and Jonathan Hunt's oft-overlooked Rinata serving up eggplant involtini with tomato sugo. These prototypes make beautifully executed, creative, thoughtful food that happens to be portioned into small, mix-n-match plates. By comparison, the Tangiers serves wine snacks, things you would put together for dinner party guests to nosh on while they wait for you to finish braising the osso buco.
For example, one small plate described as prosciutto and fresh figs was pretty, but too tiny to be taken seriously. There were maybe 10 dried figs draped prettily with narrow slices of prosciutto and a couple of crostini. The combination is nice, but hardly worth the $12 price tag Tangiers puts on it, especially when the same amount of money will get you the calamari salad with baby artichokes or sweetbreads with pickled shallots at 112 Eatery, just a few blocks away. The sweet and salty dates, speared with toothpicks and served with a small green salad, had a similar premise but fared better. The fruit is wrapped with crispy bacon and served with a sticky jalapeño jelly, but its pineapple stuffing hardly came through in flavor. A brightly acidic tomato bruschetta and almost-whipped black olive tapenade were enjoyable enough, but could have easily been ratcheted up a notch with the addition of a few unexpected ingredients: a little herb, some heat, more adventure.
Two dishes veered away from the Mediterranean bent with varying degrees of success. One was a lettuce wrap that promised nutty Thai flavors but delivered a cold chicken salad with a few crisp vegetables for texture. The final product was not terrible, but it missed the mark on creating the complexity of sweet, hot, salty, and sour one expects from a Thai-inspired dish. The other option was a sort of fusion taco that sounded risky — pork belly, roasted carrots, and basil pesto — but actually had a rich flavor that made it the most satisfying, dinner-like bite on the menu.
Rounding out the small plates, a handful of flatbread pizzas mostly served as vehicles to remix ingredients from the appetizer section of the menu. The Bianca showcased the combo of crispy prosciutto and figs again, but this time with the addition of some gorgonzola cheese and a balsamic vinegar reduction, making it the standout option in that section of the menu. Despite its lack of imagination, the Tangiers does a good job with the small details that can sometimes make or break a dish. Salads were all nicely, lightly dressed, undressed greens were salt-and-peppered, and bread was always lightly toasted and drizzled with olive oil.
Drinks were, across the board, strong, and designed to carry you through that passage of time between happy hour and full-blown club scene. Some were simple and straightforward, such as the refreshing James Gatsby with Maker's Mark, simple syrup, and mint leaves, or the Bee Keeper made with organic gin, honey, and orange juice. Others were one-dimensional, like the Dream Berry Crush cocktail, which contained fresh juice and fruity jams, but was overpowered by a candy-sweet flavored vodka base.
The location is primo and the Tangiers team were smart to open when they did, but something about the restaurant's concept feels only partially gestated. The get-tipsy-and-dance drinks seem to do their job, but the food menu needs to incubate a little bit longer. The kitchen staff earns respect for managing to make several dishes out of the same dozen or so ingredients, but it would be nice to see a little more cooking and a little less assembly.
If it succeeds, Tangiers may signal a new era and a new brand of gentrification in these parts. We might even see more downtown club culture creeping closer to the river's edge and bottle service taking precedence over a really well-crafted cocktail. In the meantime, go with a group for happy hour when the prices are aligned with the product, the spacious booths are open, and service is attentive and accommodating. Sink into a curvaceous couch and enjoy a Tangiers signature martini made with Grey Goose, St-Germain, and Prosecco. You'll get used to the VIP room treatment in no time.
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