Eat & Drink This Now: Tangata’s Ode to Guo Pei’s Haute Couture

The golden empress dessert at Tangata. Photo by Greg Nagel

There’s nothing quite like watching a haute couture show, for which clothes are bent into soft translations of a designer’s inspiration, sometimes taking 500 people and hundreds of days to complete. Even if you’re not a fan of high fashion, the current exhibition at the Bowers Museum is a chance to see it all up close, each hand-embroidered design, each perfectly placed jewel, each piece an engineering and fashion marvel. On display for “Guo Pei: Couture Beyond” are ethereal looks created by the iconic Chinese designer.

Guo Pei’s shoes alone are worth the trip. Photo by Greg Nagel

Three of those looks inspired Tangata Restaurant executive chef Stefano Ciociola to come up with a special menu celebrating the show, titled “Geo Pei: Cuisine Beyond.” The museum’s on-site eatery usually takes on a Euro-Pacific flare. Inspired by the featured designer, Ciociola’s haute cuisine imitates fashion, making the trip a complete experience.

The Imperial Warrior salad paired with a rosé. Photo by Greg Nagel

For the Imperial Warrior salad, golden orange slices intermingle with a palette of duck confit, speckled lettuce, crunchy endive, subtle celeriac mousse and spicy candied walnuts. Stitching the dish together is a Champagne vinaigrette that yearns to be paired with a light wine. Recommended by our server was the house rosé, a Domaine De Cala from France. The wine is nearly bone-dry, with some apple and peach notes that play well with the lightness of the salad. Sadly, you cannot bring a glass of it into the exhibit; the only wine you can bring into the show has to be smuggled within your belly.

The Dragon of Huanghai and a pour of pinot. Photo by Greg Nagel

When the main dish arrived, I tried my hardest to think of which look it was derived from. Seared barramundi (though the menu says it’s black cod) is perched atop a pad of satisfying Chinese forbidden rice that has a deep-purple hue and is somewhat sweet and nutty. The fish is served skin-up and adorned with crispy rainbow carrot on top and pea tendrils on the bottom. “It’s like that one outfit with the gold on top,” Ciociola notes. I didn’t want to press him too hard about which specific one, as each look isn’t named. To avoid overpowering the lightness of the dish, I paired it with Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir out of Santa Barbara for its bright-red cherry and raspberry notes.

I want to hide under this and eat more dessert. Photo by Greg Nagel

If you’re going for a quick bite before or after the show, you must get dessert. The golden empress mimics Pei’s centerpiece of the Elysium collection with a golden, sparkly lemon mousse; caramel Chantilly cream; and lots of fun details sprinkled about that can be smeared through the earthy-sweet cilantro coulis. Can I smuggle some more of this to eat under one of the huge dome dresses?

Tangata Restaurant at the Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-0906; “Guo Pei: Couture Beyond” runs through July 14. For more information on the exhibit, visit

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