I know “tantra” is not the medieval Sanskrit translation for “baby got back.” It is a set of spiritual practices designed to awaken and enlighten the soul, much more than the cult of ecstasy portrayed in Western culture.
But if you’re going to name your establishment Tantra, it suggests a booty call, right? Or, at the very least, an expensive session with a specialist.
Such has been the identity challenge faced by Tantra, an ambitious restaurant that opened in late 2010 in a prime location on Peachtree Road, only to be roundly ignored by nearly everyone in the food community.
At that time a certain dining critic gave its website a cursory glance and decided the expensive Middle Eastern/Mediterranean/Indian-accented menu — as intriguing as it sounded — was a mere adjunct to a bar and lounge. Tantra, the critic surmised, would appear to be more in the business of dim lighting than dining.
But then, after the restaurant had been open about six months, the critic got an email from Tantra’s general manager, saying the business could really use a review. A couple of emails went back and forth and the manager assured the critic, “Food is the main focus [of the restaurant], we just happen to have a bar in it.”
The critic asked around. Anyone eaten at Tantra? “That’s not a real restaurant, is it?” one friend asked.
So the critic directed his research toward the next logical source of information: Yelp. After being momentarily diverted by the reader-review site to the Tantra Adult Fantasy Store in Marietta, he found these assessments of Tantra the restaurant in Buckhead:
“… tickles the sensual and sexy in you. Mhmm.”
“… amazing, and gives off a very sexy and contemporary vibe.”
“I cannot say enough about this place. I went here for date night went my husband, and what a DATE NIGHT it turned out to be.”
Those capital letters could mean only one thing: Kundalini had been awakened.
As far as opinions on the food, there seemed to be more positive reviews than negative ones, but they were predictably all over the board.
So the critic made a mental note to make a visit to Tantra when time allowed, but not to make it a priority.
After the restaurant had been open a year, the critic got a very nice email from the restaurant’s owner that read, in part, “During the year, we have worked diligently to satisfy many customers. We do have many great reviews from our customers on opentable.com and yelp.com. I would appreciate if you could put us in your calendar for a visit soon.”
The critic looked at the menu again. There was something called “white curry veal,” and a $35 lamb chop entree. There was a vegetarian okra and paneer koresh and a grilled ostrich fan fillet with citrus. He did some research to find out that ostrich fans are not people who cheer on big birds, but rather muscles taken from the inner thigh. It sure looked like an intriguing menu.
So the critic decided to take a peek at Tantra’s Facebook page and stumbled on photos from an apparently rollicking event called Beachbody Team Lisa. Here was a picture of a comely woman in a red sateen sheath, and there was a picture of a sad pile of pita bread and hummus. This really didn’t seem to be a place for ostrich fans.
Nearly nine months passed before the next email arrived, this time with the subject line “A hidden gem in Buckhead.” It was from a friend of a friend who, as it turned out, was the catering director at Tantra (the restaurant, not the store).
So the critic gathered up a posse and descended on Tantra at the nonsexy hour of 6 p.m. on a Tuesday. People wearing stick-on name tags milled about the front bar, where a Buddha gazed serenely over the call liquor. The decor was pretty much what the critic had expected — red velvet banquettes, billowy curtains and framed Kama Sutra artwork, all very tastefully whispering, “Let’s get it on.”
The critic felt of two minds about much of the food that came to his table. He did appreciate the energy, ambition and scope of the kitchen, but found the food overwrought and too caught up in being sexy. It was like a pretty woman on the dance floor who does that sinuous, hands-twirling-in-the-air thing but can’t keep time to the music.
There were all kinds of fun doodads on the plates that overshadowed the items they garnished. The critic pushed away dry, dull salmon to get to its wonderful spinach-feta cake. That koresh of rawish okra and chalky paneer cheese needed work, but its side of buttery basmati rice crusted like a Persian chelow with a layer of crisp potato was brilliant. Kudos to the fat, creamy eggplant fries. Boos to the springy lamb sirloin they sided.
The critic left still unsure about whether or not Tantra should get a full review. It seemed like a fun place, and it has survived and grown for two years. It knew its crowd.
But the kitchen’s efforts seemed an adjunct to Tantra’s high-spirit exotica. If you go for First Tango Tuesdays, or Sultry Jazz Night, or to try out for Beachbody Team Lisa or simply to make sure your date night earns its capital letters, then the food might surprise and delight you.
If you go with a critical hat on and inventory the ways in which dishes are (over) conceived and (unevenly) executed, or make note that the server doesn’t tell you there’s no ostrich fan until long after you’ve ordered it, you may come to different conclusions.
I personally wouldn’t listen to what any critic has to say about Tantra. I’d much rather wander into this place some night, drink a silly cocktail and pay more attention to the lovely lady sitting across the table than the food.Tantra Price range: $$$-$$$$ Credit cards: all major Hours: 5:30-10 p.m., Mondays-Thursdays; 5:30-11 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays. Parking: valet Reservations: yes Wheelchair access: full Patio: yes Address, telephone: 2285 Peachtree Road, Atlanta; 404-288-7963.