The expansive, hacienda-style courtyard remains the same, but much else is updated at Tangata, the Patina Group restaurant serving lunch at Bowers Museum. There’s a refreshed feeling of indoor-outdoor in the design and amped-up Pacific Rim flavors on the menu. Tangata’s reintroduction coincided with the opening of “The Red that Colored the World” exhibit, which traces the history and significance of cochineal—tiny bugs that give their all to make the precious red-toned dye familiar in fabric and food. I wondered if Campari would get a mention, since the Italian amaro’s characteristic bright red color formerly came from cochineal—a 2006 reformulation eliminated the insect as an ingredient and the color is now artificial. Brief mention on a card in the edibles area was enough; to me, Campari has never tasted anywhere near as good since they got the bugs out. You might be surprised how much insect extract you ingest in other food products, under names like carmine or Natural Red 4.
At Tangata, ruby-red water glasses carry on the cochineal, and what our waiter poured into them at a media tasting is worth noting: my very favorite bottled water, Badoit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on another menu in California. Tangata lists three still and three sparkling waters, all selected by the Patina Group’s own water sommelier.
The new pan-Pacific Rim menu is the work of executive chef Donald Harris, who came to Tangata from Leatherby’s Café Rouge in Costa Mesa. Seeing fresh Monterey squid on a menu means I’m ordering it, and it was fab, sitting atop a thick pool of Thai eggplant purée, a subtle and unusual dipping sauce for crunchy fried rings and tentacles ($10). And why shouldn’t a museum café have an excellent burger? Tangata’s teriyaki burger is a nicely crumbly Angus patty with grilled pineapple and red onion, cooked to a perfect medium as requested, skinny sesame fries on the side ($17). The house-made teriyaki sauce is really something else. Thick, shiny, sweet, but loaded with savory complexity, too. It’s positively slatherworthy. You’ll see when you make it—chef Harris was nice enough to share his recipe when I asked.
Tangata House Teriyaki Sauce
(Makes approximately 1 cup)
In addition to burgers, chef Donald Harris suggests using on grilled chicken or salmon or with vegetable rice bowls.
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated on a Microplane or very finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh garlic, grated on a Microplane or very finely chopped
1 tablespoon honey
2 whole star anise pods
½ cup water mixed with 3 tablespoons cornstarch
Combine all ingredients in small saucepan and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixtures reaches a slow boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove star anise. (Sauce is very thick—reduce cornstarch to 2 tablespoons for thinner result.)