Popular Tampa restaurant Kon Tiki floats a fusion menu

The Tahitian Inn opened Asian and Latin themed Kon Tiki recently

Take your sweetie to Tahiti. The Tahitian Inn remakes itself as Kon Tiki at night.

Thursday through Saturday, the Tahitian Inn strikes a jazzy note as they dim the lights (bring your specs) and present a playful menu with an Asian-Latin accent. Then, Kon Tiki emerges a few feet from where bacon and eggs were served hours before.

Tahitian Inn gets its name from a Norwegian explorer ’s wooden raft that took the author from South America to the Polynesian Islands. Kon Tiki  buoys itself with small plates, burgers  and pizzas. It crests with six big-ticket items of steak, seafood and kebabs ($16 to $28).

The bar is a focal point here, and a jazz combo threatens to overpower table conversation. Still, it’s a good place to unwind with friends.

In October, management brought in CIA-trained Chef Erin Van Zandt Guggino, with past stints at South Tampa’s Water sushi lounge and Mad Dogs & Englishmen, to create the menu.

“I always dabbled in Asian cuisine and really enjoy the versatility of sour, sweet and spicy ingredients, and that’s been my focus for many years,’’ says Erin, who grew up near San Francisco. She loves Latin and Mexican cuisine. “I’m very comfortable with both and enjoy fusing the two cuisines,’’ she adds. So far, she is sailing admirably among the sharks of competition on North Dale Mabry Hwy.

Jalapeno-braised beef, jalapenos and queso adorn short rib nachos.

The star here is short rib nachos, with  tender beef  braised in a habañero pepper broth,  layered with queso blanco and fresh pico de gallo, sitting atop crisp wonton chips with a bit of pickled jalapeño and a Sriracha-aioli drizzle. Oh my.

“A fan favorite,’’ she agrees.

The chef’s spin on ceviche finds lump crab, shrimp and calamari tossed in a fresh citrus marinade with kefir lime and coconut milk.

Other starters include Tiki Tuna Tartar, Asian guacamole, spring rolls and crunchy chicken skewers.

We threaded our way through several sandwiches, which  range from $10 to $13.

Steak-a-icious gets finesse from thin slices of steak, grilled tomatoes, caramelized onions and cotija cheese,  paired with a smoked jalapeño queso dip.

Customers asked the chef to add grouper to the menu.

Blackened mahi mahi and pickled cucumber and cabbage salad also delight. It’s piggy time when crisp bacon meets shredded Mojo pork and crumbled queso on Cuban bread, also treated to Tiki slaw.

The menu gets tweaked about every three months. When customers asked for grouper, the chef came up with a Dos Equis-batter for the firm, white fish on a sesame seed bun and adds jicama cabbage slaw. Sidekick spunky sweet potato fries boast flavor.

Tacos are decidedly different, with flavorful pork,  queso cheese, jicama, and shredded cabbage, to provide the right accent for crisp tortilla rectangles.

Day Boat scallops, dusted with cumin and chili, enjoy succotash.

A spray of cumin and chili powder adorn U-10 Day Boat scallops, four plump jewels that sit atop a ginger, roasted yam, shiitake and tomato succotash with edamame — these guys are called beans on branches. Only the side dish misfired, the mound of boring black rice was as lifeless as a beached barnacle.

Other entrees to savor are a pumpkin seed-crusted tofu, shrimp picadillo, chimichurri chicken, a filet and a couple of fish dishes, which can be ordered blackened, almond-crusted, or coconut dusted. Burgers come out as singles, doubles or triple stacks. One plays homage to the  hamburger haven of yesterday, the Goody Goody eatery downtown.

Finish dinner with banana-peanut spring rolls with coconut ice cream, pineapple-upside down cake with black sesame seeds, bread pudding or popsicles.

Consider al fresco dining on the lush patio and sip the chef’s spin on Asian, bubble tea-styled drinks made with milk,  fresh fruit and jelly-like tapioca pearls. How about a chai tini with rum, caramel liqueur and  cinnamon sugar?

Kon Tiki

601 S. Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa

Website: http://www.kontikitampa.com/

Cuisine: Latin-Asian fusion with live music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays

Time: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Way to pay: AMEX, V, MC

Drinks: full bar

To get in: Call for reservations. (813) 877-6721, Ext. 5

Money: appetizers $8 to $11; entrees $9 to $28

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Let’s celebrate: There is a reason to smile every day, such as :

2/19: National Chocolate Mint Day.  Chomp on those Girl Scout Thin Mints in your freezer.

2/20: National Margarita Day.  Add a south-of-the-border ‘Rita as your treat-a.

2/21: National Sticky Bun Day. Crave those cinnamon-scented bites with that thick, sticky  ‘goo.

Check out Deck the Holidays for more holidays in February.

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Short ribs at Kon Tiki made  me hungry for  more.   Ina Garten knows how to turn up their flavor with fennel.

Kon Tiki on Urbanspoon

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3 comments to Popular Tampa restaurant Kon Tiki floats a fusion menu

  • Julie

    Wow! What a great review. It makes me want to run out and try it ASAP!

  • Taylor Eason

    I ate there last week and was mesmerized by the food. The short rib nachos — a far cry from bar food — and the Day Boat Scallops stole the show. Thanks for the intro, Mary!

  • julie

    Mary, you make it sound all so exciting. I know I could just go and try some of their offerings, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without reading about it first. Thanks!

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