The Rich Are Different

Photo by Keith MayMaybe you occasionally treat yourself to six-day weekends at seaside villas in foreign places where one-legged lepers are swept from the sidewalks so as to relieve you from their begging for your American nickels. Undoubtedly, you are the kind of person who gets hour-long facials under mists of aromatic citrus, a rainforest tape cooing and chirruping in the background. How are you able to pamper yourself so? Perhaps you hadn't realized the dot-com boom shriveled up like so much wilted arugula, or perhaps you just divorced well. Whatever the reason, you are the kind of person who needs and deserves a two-hour, $80 lunch.

Enter Tangata. You want to feel pampered and catered-to like a well-tended divorcee? Then you must dine where the socialites and divorcees dine: at your neighborhood museum. (One local museum has a patron who keeps her own linen for restaurant staff to unearth when she visits.) Tangata is the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art's restaurant, and it is exquisite and perfect in every way.

Tangata is one of those fusion thangs that was so popular in the mid-'90s, and that's the only way it should be at a museum that's about worldwide art. Even if the items aren't to your American palate—or you just don't like the consistency of the Israeli couscous—the dishes are never clumsy.

Cher and I started with the spicy seared ahi over a sesame-noodle cake and petite watercress salad "brightened" with ponzu. I ate most of it because I'm a pig, but Cher got her licks in as well. This is a dish that's done everywhere in one fusion form or another (at Bistango, the tuna is served on a bed of guacamole), and it's usually satisfying and tasty. But at Tangata, the watercress adds its own soft piquancy. And everything goes better with the citrus-based ponzu (that's the stuff they put on your salmon and halibut in the better sushi joints). One friend who couldn't remember its name asked for it as "yummy sauce."

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Some time after we'd scarfed down our appetizer, Cher's grilled lamb-sirloin steak with Israeli couscous, poached mission figs, wilted arugula, and a pomegranate and lamb reduction ($15.50) and my grilled salmon with shrimp ravioli, sautéed asparagus and pear tomatoes in a brown butter-sage sauce ($14.95) arrived. It's the kind of menu that could be its own review; just print all the ingredients and no commentary is necessary. But I like to talk, so talk I will.

With the salmon, I'd been aiming for "healthy." This was a ridiculous misconception, as the raviolis were floating in so much oil it looked like the wreck of the Exxon Valdez. You may think of this as a "bad" thing. But I'm the kind of person for whom the best part of a pork chop is the soft, crackly rim of fat. So I didn't mind the butter a bit as it dripped from my salmon (a good-sized piece of fish) and my asparagus and so thoroughly drowned my ravioli that they lay on the bottom of my pretty plate like a catfish lies in muck. The asparagus, meanwhile, was tender and buttery and lemony and so melty I could cut it with a fork even though it was as thick as my pinkie. Cher didn't like her couscous. I liked her lamb, though. It wasn't too lean and stringy, like lamb has a tendency to be. It reminded me of pork fat.

Our fancy martinis didn't get us drunk, so I will say nothing more about them. But we ended with the "apple galette," a "dense compote of roasted apples, raisins and walnuts in filo pastry heated with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce." What does one even say to that? Okay, this: one would think one wouldn't want walnuts mucking about in one's dessert, but they were a necessary crunchy complement to the soft mush of the roasted apples. And it was excellent. And I loved it. And I would go back tomorrow—except I've used up my lunch budget for the next seven months. If you are a rich man who would like to divorce me, please give me a call.

Tangata at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, located at 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, is open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (714) 550-0906. Full bar. Lunch for two, $60, food only. All major credit cards accepted.

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