Talara is a feast for the senses. Neon lights, bold Cuban art, salsa rhythms, and vibrant hues embrace visitors as soon as they enter this new Harbor East restaurant, where citrus-soaked ceviche and Latino tapas are the food draw—you'll quickly be immersed in a kind of South Beach hipness.
On most evenings, the drink bar is packed with patrons, and diners quickly fill the tables or find spots at the ceviche bar, where cooks prepare an assortment of seafood, raw and semi-cooked, in different variations.
Seated at a table, we were fascinated by all the ceviche choices on the menu—well, actually, we were overwhelmed. Thankfully, our waitress came to the rescue. She suggested pairing the traditional ceviche (marinated in lime with jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and more) with oysters on the half shell, the avocado-and-corn ceviche with crab, and the tongue-tingling fire and ice with ahi tuna.
The preparations—all nicely cold, different, and pretty—arrived together on an oblong white plate, making sharing fun and easy. Each had tropical undertones of lime and cilantro but were individualized with their own flavors. Fire and ice, dolloped into cute ceramic spoons, is aptly named for the fiery zing of habaneros, which mingled well with the ruby bits of tuna. The avocado and corn with lumps of crab was molded into an artful mound and served with thinly crisp malanga chips (made from a type of yellow potato, our server said). And the fat oysters were juicy for slurping.
We weren't sure how many tapas to order. But, once again, our busy, pleasant waitress offered just the right solution. Order two per person, and you'll have plenty to pass around, she suggested. She was right. We didn't go home with doggy bags, but we were full by the end of the succession of plates.
As in many tapas places, the food comes out when it's ready. But it doesn't matter. You pass around dishes as they arrive, keeping a parade of flavors marching on. The only disappointment was the mini paella with seafood (marisco) served in an individual cast-iron dish. While the saffron rice was tender, the scallops and shrimp (it also came with calamari and mussels) were tough and chewy.
But the rest of our dishes were right-on successes. We'd definitely go back for the juicy mojo criollo pork shank, glazed with a thick citrus marinade over a luscious corn-and-goat-cheese polenta, and mussels Cataplana, a mess of shells with creamy, meaty insides in a garlicky tomato-and-chorizo sauce, served with grilled ciabatta slices to mop up the juices. Exquisite combos.
No less impressive were the lollipop lamb chops, also over polenta, and the chipotle-dusted crab salad, a fresh arrangement of romaine, corn, black beans, roasted red peppers, Manchego cheese, and more tossed in a lime-cilantro (these flavors rule!) citronette.
You also shouldn't bypass the wild mushroom flatbreads, triangles of crust laden with a potpourri of shiitake, oyster, and Portobello 'shrooms plus olives, roasted tomatoes, and gobs of piquant chèvre. The downside was the generous topping overwhelmed the thin flatbread and fell all over the plate. You have to get over being neat here. There are no knives, just dainty forks—but they work for the most part. Somehow, we managed to scoop up all the stray toppings.
We ran into this deliciously messy problem with dessert, too. We were only given tiny, demitasse-sized spoons, which gave us a bit of trouble with the apple empanadas. These were lovely turnovers, accompanied by a golf ball-sized round of dulce de leche ice cream and apple chips, all glimmering with caramel sauce. The miniature flatware wasn't large enough for the task of breaking into the pastry. But don't feel sorry for us. We have fingers.
Our other desserts—a petite Mexican flourless torte with cinnamon cream and a delicate tres leches cake (the size of a cupcake)—were more manageable, and a nice, sweet finish. We capped them off with French press coffee.
If you time your visit right, you can take advantage of Talara's happy hour (4-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday) with attractive drink and snack deals. A classic mojito, packed with muddled mint, for instance, is $5 compared with its regular $8 price.
The drink menu also has numerous other selections, including wine, beer, and specialty rums. We also sipped a pleasing strawberry mimosa mojito, topped with fizzy Spanish Cava.
On another visit, we sat at the bar and nursed one of the restaurant's signature drinks—a pisco sour, made with grape brandy. It's refreshingly delicious. Our bartender suggested sprinkling cinnamon on top, and we happily agreed to his recommendation.
We also ordered finger sandwiches—ahi tuna sliders with wasabi mayo and a wonderful, rich Cuban beef brisket—which were perfect morsels (trust us, they're small) to nibble while ogling the crowd.
Now, the caveat: arrive early. As the night goes on, the party crowd and the music rev up. It's lively—and loud. This isn't exactly the place for a serious conversation or a quiet romantic interlude.
But don't let that stop you. Talara is definitely worth a visit any time of the evening to indulge in the fantastic ceviche and tapas. Anyway, who cares if you can't hear anyone? You'll be too busy chewing.