The phrase “family-run” gets thrown around a lot when talking about businesses, to the point where it has started to rival “world-famous” in its overuse. Sure, your company might have been founded a century ago by some lone dreamer and their supportive kin, but where exactly do you draw the line between a home-y mom-and-pop and a faceless transnational? “Family-run” is a cozy descriptor that invokes images of community investment and artisan products, but am I really expected to apply it to ‘family-owned’ corporations like Nike and Wal-Mart?
Those are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night, and ones that I was happy to leave at home while dining out at Tentador Latin Cuisine, a new restaurant just off 127th Street that is Latin American-inspired and decidedly family-run.
My partner and I arrived an hour before closing and with the full intention of ordering a three-course meal; a bit of a diner faux-pas, I know, but those are the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary when you missed lunch and have a rapidly approaching deadline for your next restaurant review.
But, despite my foibles as a patron, the man clearly stacking up patio chairs outside and the fact that the restaurant was otherwise deserted, our server still welcomed us to Tentador with the warmth of beloved regulars. I later got to chatting with her and learned that the man putting away patio chairs was her father, who doubles as one of the chefs, working alongside her mother, uncle and aunt. She and her cousin round off the family affair as the restaurant’s servers. The Chilean family opened Tentador just two months ago. We exchanged a few nervous laughs at the mention of that last point — opening a restaurant is a harrowing proposition in the best of times, but doubly so in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Tentador is actually a Spanish word meaning “tempting,” which accurately describes the sensation you feel looking through the restaurant’s menu. In addition to boasting familiar Latin American favourites like tacos, churros, chips and guac, the menu also features unexpected dishes like completo, a Chilean hot dog topped with smashed avocado, fresh tomatoes and mayonnaise, as well as patacon, a deep-fried plantain sandwich that has its roots in Venezuela but seems poised for an Edmonton takeover.
Anchoring the menu is a half-page of empanadas, Tentador’s specialty and a reasonable place to start your meal. We ordered a plate of deep-fried cheese empanadas as our appetizers, which came out golden brown and served with a side of pebre, a Chilean condiment similar to salsa. The empanadas initially looked so big that they were threatening to fall off the plate, but that turned out to be more of an illusion than anything. The hulking fried turnovers quickly shrink once you break into them, collapsing into a cloud of hot steam and mozzarella.
Tentador’s menu doesn’t make the task of choosing a main dish easy, especially with its aforementioned mix of familiar favourites and unexpected surprises. Do you try something new or buy something true? It’s an age-old refrain that has haunted restaurant-goers for millennia, and one that we mediated between by ordering a plate of baked empanadas — barbecue chicken and veggie, this time — and the patacon.
The real star of the evening though was the patacon, a Venezuelan sandwich made with chunks of sautéed beef topped with coleslaw, “special sauce” and served between discs of deep-fried plantain. I’ll admit that my previous run-ins with deep-fried bread substitutes initially made me a bit hesitant about the patacon, but where other fast-food chains have sold their ‘reimagined’ sandwiches on garish novelty, Tentador’s patacon is a genuine upgrade. Savoury, juicy and ever so sweet (courtesy of the plantain), Tentador elevates the typical beef sandwich by replacing a reliable substrate with a bona fide player, and the result is a dish that is as dynamic as it is unexpected.
Another section on Tentador’s menu that shouldn’t be missed is the drinks, which is easy to do because they aren’t actually on it. Our server explained that the restaurant is still working on refining its drink selection, but, in the meantime, she was happy to mix up a caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail made with cachaça (fermented sugarcane juice), sugar and lime, as well as a pisco sour, a sweet and sour cocktail made in Chile and Peru using a brandy known as pisco.
Suffice to say, if the caipirinha is your bookish, longtime partner with good credit and a five-year plan, then the pisco sour is the whirlwind summer fling that left you out of breath and with a few poorly thought-out tattoos. I can’t say for sure whether our server was heavy handed or if pisco sours are always made with that kind of punchiness, but what I do know is that the cocktail had the unique distinction of leaving you smarting with every sip while raring for the next one.
Every success story starts with a vision, and it’s clear that Tentador already has a strong one. With a menu that samples Latin American favourites with a respectful approach and playful flair, the family-run restaurant is definitely one to watch. Two months in may seem like far too soon to be making prophetic proclamations about a new restaurant, but it’s hard to say why Tentador’s mix of a strong menu, warm atmosphere and sincere service doesn’t give it the makings of a community favourite for years to come. And trust me, that’s not just the pisco talking.