Greg and I had been arguing for the better part of an hour when dessert arrived. "You have no idea what you're talking about," he spat out. Then he swallowed a chunk of the sugar art adorning the bowl of olive oil gelato.
Suddenly his face changed. "Oh my God, that's good. You need to try it."
The sugar was just shy of burnt, a rich caramel crunch hardened into a shape that could hang in one of the many galleries that fill Boca's Mizner Park. It towered out of a scoop of a gelato that was wonderfully savory and sweet with just a hint of olive flavor. On the side were four small beignets that provided texture and something to sop up the melting ice cream.
Then I took a taste. "Wow" was all I could manage.
Just like that, one dessert shut us the hell up. It also showed just how capable the kitchen at Tanzy can be. There were some misses and some just fine dishes during our meal there, but that single dessert was enough to define this place as a special-occasion-priced restaurant that will likely be on many people's lists of the best new kitchens around.
Tanzy is the product of iPic Theaters, a high-end concept with nine locations around the country that pairs lounges and fine-dining restaurants with movie houses next door. The theaters boast the kind of chairs Dad would claim in the living room, with foot-rest extenders and small tables to hold the food and drinks that can be ordered from your seat.
iPic opened the first Tanzy in Scottsdale, Arizona, but corporate chef Andre Lane designed a new menu for the Boca location. The interior is meant to reflect Italian villas, but my first thought after walking in was an upgraded version of the Rainforest Café. Realistic-looking fake bonsai trees weave upward from pots and snake across the ceiling. The theme continues everywhere, with wood or fake wood or stone or fake stone on almost every surface.
"You see that tree canopy near the entrance?" the bartender asked at the bar soon after I arrived. A tangle of vines enclosed a cave-like lounge area. Beautiful, but the only place in the restaurant that stayed empty. "They shipped it here from Malaysia."
She mixed us up a pair of El Corazon margaritas — passion fruit, pomegranate, blood orange, El Jimador tequila, and a salted rim dotted with cracked pepper. The heat from the pepper cut the sweetness nicely, and my dinner partner was smart enough to add a smoky mescal floater for $5. The bartender split a lime in half, inverted it, floated it on his drink, and poured in the golden liquid. She served them on a bar that looked like a raw chunk of dark Brazilian hardwood but felt more like painted concrete.
A second bartender dropped off a menu for the parma bar. "It's like a sushi bar but charcuterie, " she explained. She recommended the 18-month-aged prosciutto, but we went with the bresaola, salt-cured slices of lean beef served with spiced figs, apricots, and Parmesan paninis. It came on a center-cut piece of untreated wood with bark edging.
"You guys seeing a movie tonight?" the bartender asked. Like the others, she was wearing a Tanzy-issued over-the-shoulder, low-cut black evening dress. She pointed back behind her to the escalators that zip from the restaurant to the iPic theater. If we were, she explained that we could get an abbreviated version of the menu in our seats at the theater. "And wow," she boasted, "those captain's chairs are awesome."
No, we'd be doing the old-fashioned dinner route. But by the time we'd finished our drinks and were ready to be seated, the dining room had nearly filled. So the hostess went in search of a table that wasn't being held for a reservation. As we waited, a second hostess explained, "Have you seen the floors in the dining room? They're over 800 years old."
Then the first hostess returned with the good news that she had found us a table. En route, she turned and said, "I have to warn you. It's a little weird."
She brought us to a faux wood table at windows overlooking the bamboo-lined courtyard. It sat 14. "You guys can have this end, but we might end up sitting another group at the other end."
"What is this?" asked my friend Greg as he sat down. "Should I have a crown?"
An introduction to the menu explains that the inspiration came from the Amalfi Coast, that place of dreams that's home to much of the Italian food we grew up on in this country. The meatball appetizer is certainly a nod to the region, with its ricotta, crostini spears, and simple red sauce. But Amalfians wouldn't be happy with the dry meatballs, which were even less satisfying because of the too-dry bread.
We continued to the Brussels sprouts, covered in tempura batter and served with a side of sweet pepper sauce. Forks collided at least once as we raced to finish them.
Our waiter was the kind of attentive and knowledgeable type you get at great restaurants and very rarely at places as new as this one. He offered us either strawberry mint or lemon mint water. When we asked about the benefits, he didn't equivocate. The strawberry mint, with just a hint of the fruit as well as herbs, was refreshing enough to make us wonder why every restaurant doesn't try this.
We had some debate over our entrées, not only over what to pick but whether they were worth the steep prices. Greg called his herb and peppercorn-crusted rib eye the winner, and no doubt it had a fantastic char. It sat on a hash of corn and fava beans that was simple but all that was needed with a steak that good.
My duck could've been great if only someone had crisped up that fat layer, which instead was as chewy as bubblegum. The side of unseasoned mache and candied figs seemed a bit too simple for a dish that costs $28, but the carpaccio of cantaloupe was, and I know this sounds odd, one of the best dishes of the night.
Another guest ordered pan-seared branzino, a salty dish that wasn't improved by the accompanying couscous or nearly absent lemon-butter sauce. Each ingredient on the plate was excellent, but without much seasoning, it also seemed like a dish you'd whip up for dinner, not something found at a high-end chain.
Service seemed to drop off around this point, which might have had something to do with the waiter-consuming group of five that had been seated at the other end of our table. Our wine and strawberry mint water glasses sat empty as the desserts arrived, the aforementioned and fantastic olive oil gelato and a less-than-special tartufo — ice cream layers with melted chocolate, sliced prettily across a plate.
Soon, we scooped up the last gulps of melted gelato off the bottom of the bowl. I had long ago forgotten about the Rainforest Café or the fake bonsai trees above us. Instead, I looked back to the open kitchen, the most illuminated part of the dining room, and wondered if they'd make us one more bowl of gelato.