Sunday, May 22, 2005

It Takes Tu Tu Tango

It was a usual lazy Sunday around Duloc Manor, at least until I uttered those famous words that shatter good marriages everywhere: "Honey, where should we go for lunch?" Of course, the patented reply is, "I don't know," followed by a spirited round of, "Well, I don't know either. That's why I asked you." We volleyed back and forth for a while with, "You pick," "No, you pick," etc., with neither of us willing to commit.

Although we had the same problem back in Chicago, it's infinitely worse in Celebration because of the wide array of choices. In town, we have such gems as Max's (Market Street Cafe, with diner style food), Antonio's (awesome Italian), Seito (sushi...more my husband's bag than mine), and Columbia (Cuban). If you dare to leave The Bubble and venture out onto 192, there are restaurants as far as the eye can see. There are more TGI Friday's, Reb Lobsters, Waffle Houses, and Sizzlers than you can shake a stick at. I'm not fond of buffet chains, but Fridays and Red Lobster are both favorites, and Logan's and Longhorn are always good choices for steak.

Leave town the other way, via World Drive, and you've opened up the entire spectum of Disney World dining. Lunchtime choices are limited at the hotels, but there are lots of favorites in the theme parks (Brown Derby and 50s Prime Time in MGM, just about any of the countries in Epcot). Downtown Disney has some good choices, too, most notably Wolfgang Puck Express and Earl of Sandwich.

If you venture past DD, you'll come to the Crossroads, which is home to Chevy's. I call their menu "fru fru Mexican," as they offer such odd sounding fusion delights as quesidillas with chicken and apple. But don't worry, the guacamole is authentic and the tortillas are homemade by "El Machino," a monstrous looking gas-fueled contraption in the middle of the diningroom. Down the road a bit is Bahama Breeze, a Darden-owned chain serving food with a Caribbean flare.

With all of those choices, and many, many more, chosing a restaurant is quite a dilemma. My husband had a taste for Columbia, but we ate there a lot when we first moved to Celebration so I've reached my sation level. Besides, he had picked our culinary indulgence the day before (Chili's, which had tempted him with their flame-grilled skewer commercials...I'm happy to say they are just as tasty as they look on t.v.). Thus, the onus of where to eat fell squarely on my shoulders.

I toyed with eating at one of the Disney parks, but that can be a pain if it's crowded. We decided to call Garden Grill at Epcot to see if they had any reservations in the near future; that would allow us to enjoy a meal and sneak in a Fast Pass ride on Soaring. But when I called, the only reservations available were a couple of hours away. My rumbling stomach, which had not had any breakfast, refused to wait that long.

I thought we should try something new, so I proposed trying Seasons 52, a Darden "concept" restaurant where everything is supposed to be fresh, tasty, and low-calorie. We always kick it around, but by the time we call, it's too late to get reservations. Our friends say it is fabulous, so I pressured my husband into giving it a try. He moaned and groaned, protesting that he was in the mood for Mexican (sure, he can't decide when I ask him, but he's full of contrary opinions once I make a choice). Finally, we compromised on Chevy's.

But as I drove through Downtown Disney, heading towards the Crossroads, I felt a streak of rebellion. I was the driver; if I decided to go to Seasons 52, there was no way hubby could stop me. Instead of going straight, I turned left onto Vineland and headed out towards Dr. Phillips and a new culinary experience.

As we tooled along toward Sand Lake Road, my husband said, "I'll bet they're not open for lunch." Hmmm, that was good logic. For some reason, a lot of the restaurants in that area are only open for dinner. But I dismissed him airly: "If they're closed, then we'll just find another place. We're going to try something new today."

Sure enough, as we approached the restaurant, the empty parking lot confirmed my worst fears. Once again, Seasons 52 would remain something to aspire too. I pulled out of the lot, mentally running through the restaurants that I knew of in the area. Nothing really jumped out at us in appeal, so I decided to head to I-Drive and turn in the direction of Disney World. There are a lot of attractions on that strip, and where you find tourists traps, you'll also find plenty of eateries.

My husband was still prattling on about Mexican, and he had subliminally lured me into his craving. We spotted a likely looking restauant called Don Pedro's or something like that, but when we pulled in, we discovered that it was closed for a private party. There were plenty of the usual chains, like Friday's, Bennigan's, Houlihan's, and even Bahama Breeze, but I was still determined to try something new.

Finally, we saw a brightly decorated building on the left; I didn't catch the name, but it looked like it might be Mexican. We zipped into a U-turn lane and headed back. There were lots of cars in the parking lot...a good sign. The sign said "Cafe Tu Tu Tango," which caused my husband and I to stare at each other in confusion. Goodness only knows what sort of ethnic experience that name might entail. Cafe Tu Tu sounded like a French ballet, but it didn't look much like a Parisian bistro. There is a restaurant in Chicago called Tango Sur that serves the most awesome Argentine beef but this place didn't strike me as an Argentine steakhouse.

Oh well, at this point we were ready to try anything, so we headed inside to take a culinary gamble. Turns out that Cafe Tu Tu Tango is a tapas bar, serving appetizer portions that are meant to be shared. I am a big tapas fan, as we had some wonderful tapas bars in Chicago, so I was pleased that we'd stumbled onto a place with the potential to become a new favorite.

In theory, tapas is Spanish. In practice, I've seen tapas bars that serve food inspired by just about any ethnicity. Cafe Tu Tu Tango was of the eclectic variety, with Spanish selections such as Spanish antipasto, Italian inspired pizzas, Cajun chicken rolls, Cuban beef skewers, Oriental-sounding tuna sashimi and pork pot stickers, and even all-American sloppy Joe empanadas (they had some authentic beef empanadas, too). For the adventurous, there are even alligator bites (one of the rare times when the human gets to bite the gator).

My husband and I were overwhelmed by the vast array of choices. Thank goodness that tapas are small and meant to be shared, which means that we could try a variety of items. But when our server showed up, he muddied the water by giving us a list of "Chef's Specials" that were just as tempting as the regular menu items.

We settled on two specials (lobster in puff pastry and asparagus with almond and citrus zest), plus the traditional empanadas and mandarin pork pot stickers. While we waited, we munched on delicious fresh breads with hummus and sipped mango iced tea (there is a great selection of interntional beers, wines, and mixed drinks, but my husband had to get up early the next morning to fly to Chicago, so he abstained...drinking makes him sleepy).

The restaurant's slogan is "Food for the Starving Artist," and their decor is centered around artwork crafted by local talents. There was an artisan at work just inside the front door; when we arrived, he was painting, and by the time we left, he had switched to the medium of clay. Just about every bit of free wall space is covered by canvases, and the windsills and counters are crammed with scultures and pottery. Virtually all of the artwork is for sale; if you're looking for a unique piece, this might be a good place to find it.

The food was totally and utterly to die for, especially the lobster in puff pastry. Before my husband took a bite, I tried to convince him that it was awful and that I'd be doing him a favor by eating his portion too. Unfortunately, he didn't fall for it. His favorite was the pork rolls, which had a slight spicy kick.

Three tapas and a vegetable were more than enough for the two of us, especially since I had filled up on bread. But the desserts were so intriguing that we just had to try them. The special of the day was a fried Twinkie...yes, a fried Twinkie. They were encased in what tasted like funnel cake dough and surrounded by a delicious white sauce that was peppered with blueberries. We also got banana pizza, which had a godly streusel coating spread on the sweet flatbread.

As we left the restaurant, my husband had to admit that it has been a good idea to expand our horizons. There are several other menu items that we want to try, so I suspect that this new discovery will enhance our marital harmony. The next time one of us asks, "What do you want to do for lunch?", the reponse won't be "I don't know." It wil be "Cafe Tu Tu Tango!"

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