Tango in Bryn Mawr
This Main Line institution ensures its continued success by dancing adroitly between cultures and cuisines
by Brian Freedman

In the seemingly eternal desire to find the new and the hip in the realm of restaurants, it’s easy to gloss over the classics that have served their customers well over the years. This is especially true in the Philadelphia metro area, which is home to one of the most vibrant, exciting and varied restaurant cultures I’ve seen around the country.

The restaurant business is a brutal one, and success is far from guaranteed even for the best of them. So anytime a restaurant manages to survive for any length of time, it’s got to be doing something right.

Tango certainly is. Of course, it’s not without the occasional flaw, as you can say about almost any restaurant, but a recent meal there clearly showed the reasons behind its longevity.

Conveniently located near the Bryn Mawr train station, Tango is the kind of big, comfortable space in which you want to linger. Its raw walls, warm colors and exceptionally friendly service set the stage for a lunch or dinner of unselfconscious sophistication: It’s the kind of place where you can bring the kids for lunch or settle into a procession of cocktails for a more grown-up dinner, all with equal levels of comfort. That’s a difficult trick to pull off.

As for the food, my first glance of the menu did send up subtle pin pricks of nervousness. It’s a large selection, with American and Latin influences as well as occasional nods toward Asia. It would be a tall order for any kitchen, but under the watchful eyes of executive chef Sam Sheridan and managing partner Joe Baldino, it’s handled with aplomb.

Guacamole was a silken bowlful studded by the occasional chunk of fresh avocado and brightened up with cilantro, jalapeño and a generous squirt of lime. A special butternut squash/sweet potato/roasted apple soup, excellent and velvet textured on its own, was punched up with subtly exotic raspberry-cardamom compote of real depth and exoticism.

Crab cake, generously portioned and crafted in house, hit all the notes you’d want it to, with tender bites of sweet crab meat offset by the toothy crunch of finely chopped bell peppers and green onions. This, of course, is always a point of contention among crab-cake lovers—how much so-called “filler” should be employed—but I’m firmly of the belief that a bit of vegetables and a subtle addition of breadcrumbs (in this case, panko) can actually be a good thing, as long as it’s in the service of amplifying the flavors of the crab meat itself. This one was, by any legitimate metric, a ringing success. And against the chipotle remoulade spread on the roll, it made for a delicious sandwich.

It’s also the kind of dish that works well alongside Tango’s well-considered beer program, especially a hoppy, craft-brewed IPA. So, too, does the Reuben, a generous, snappy-crusted sandwich that’s hearty enough to make for a very good lunch and dinner the following day; it’s a lot of food. The bow-tie pasta served a similar purpose, with tender chicken, asparagus, spinach, goat cheese and more all tossed with a rich parmesan cream sauce given added earthiness from wild mushrooms.

Not everything, however, hit its intended notes. An appetizer of seared, sesame-crusted tuna failed to inspire. The fish was fine, but the marinated cucumber salad was lacking the flavor I’d been hoping for, and the accompanying dish of sweet soy glaze overwhelmed the tuna when applied. Chicken tacos were a cheesy, gooey success, but an accompanying bowl of watery beans and sliced onions seemed like an afterthought and brought little to the plate.

These, however, are minor shortcomings that were easily compensated for by the overall success of the restaurant. And as long as you finish your meal with the buttery, lusty apple tart—the pastry shell alone is worth a visit—or a seasonally perfect, deeply comforting apple and dulce de leche bread pudding, you’ll leave Tango with a sweet taste in your mouth, literally and figuratively.

This, of course, is what you’d expect from a restaurant that’s weathered the storms of the lean recent years and still succeeds in packing its dining room. And deservedly so: Longevity, in this case, is a testament to quality.

Tango Restaurant
39 Morris Ave., Bryn Mawr
610-526-9500 | tastetango.com