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Two Left Feet

Tu Tu Tango is a clumsy pairing of uneven menu, strolling entertainment.


Cafe Tu Tu Tango, one of the crown jewels of Universal CityWalk's revamped restaurant row, is designed to look like a vast artist's garret. As you eat, painters are painting away and psychics and dancers are circulating through the rooms. They call it "eatertainment"--a word this curmudgeon wishes he had never heard.

But hey, maybe this is the restaurant of the future. It's a huge, two-level place plastered with original art, ranging from primitivist to just plain primitive. There are a couple of patios where you can escape the restaurant's relentless noise. At least Tu Tu Tango doesn't take itself too, too seriously. The back of the menu quotes the Marshall McLuhan line, "Art is anything you can get away with."

Once you're seated, you automatically get bland, bright orange hummus. Then you're ready to tackle the eclectic menu of small dishes, nothing more than $10. I do recommend the tapas-inspired Spanish antipasto plate: serrano ham, Manchego cheese, zesty olive tapenade, artichokes and roasted peppers. It's an honest, salty dish that stimulates the appetite (and the thirst).

The black bean soup with cilantro sour cream is pretty reliable too. Medium-thick pizzas are baked in a brick oven. The grilled pepperoni model is topped with half-inch-thick slices of delicious sausage. The five-cheese gets an interesting flavor from the combination of Manchego and goat cheeses.

The menu's best section, "lost and found," includes Bourbon barbecue wings and ribs, a nice combination of baby backs and chicken wings topped with crisply fried onions. Not to mention the best dish on the menu: Catalonian clams and mussels--Prince Edward Island mussels and plump Eastern clams in saffron broth laced with Spanish sausage and diced tomatoes.

Many dishes, though, fall flat. Seared tuna sashimi, served under a blizzard of fried noodles, is waterlogged with soy wasabi vinaigrette. The Oriental marinated steak skewers are tough. The crispy shrimp aren't crisp.

And I'd avoid all the fried dishes (fritangas). The Key West crab cakes are mushy, and the smoked ham and crab croquetas come in a dreadfully starchy corn sauce. Among the desserts, the chocolate souffle isn't bad if you're willing to overlook the fact that it's really a flourless chocolate cake, not a souffle. Also good is the blueberry cobbler, with a real biscuit crust. Some culinary traditions, it seems, are actually held sacred here.


Cafe Tu Tu Tango, Universal CityWalk, Universal City. Open Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Thursday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Full bar. Valet or self-parking. All major cards. Dinner for two, $27-$49. Suggested dishes: Spanish antipasto, $7.95; black bean soup, $3.95; Bourbon barbecue wings and ribs, $7.95; Catalonian clams and mussels, $8.95. Call (818) 769-2222.

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