Tanám in Union Square’s Bow Market is cool. That’s a loaded word, and one that gets tossed around to describe a lot of different things, like people with face tattoos or neighborhoods that don’t yet have acronyms invented by real estate agents. But with Tanám, the coolness starts with the fact that it is a singularly unique restaurant in Boston. Among other things, it’s the only Filipino place in the city and it seats only 10 people around a single table in a white-curtained room that used to be a storage unit.
But merely calling Tanám cool and unique sells it short - because it’s also really freaking good. And what you’ll realize as the chef/owner is giving you the personal history behind a dish of mung bean noodles, blood pudding, and braised pork shoulder, is that Tanám makes Boston more of a complete city.
Tanám offers three distinct dining experiences. For $70 per person on Wednesday nights, they cover the table with banana leaves, and load it with more than 19 dishes, like giant lobsters and bowls of pureed squash and coconut. Everything is communal and meant to be eaten with your hands - “kamayan style.” Kamayan kind of feels like your friendsgiving, only with better food, less crappy wine, and no obligatory rounds of Catch Phrase after dinner. Thursday is reserved for a “bar night” involving a la carte finger foods. And while there’s nothing wrong with stopping here before the weekend for a drink and a pork belly asado bun, Thursdays feel like a tease compared to what is offered the rest of the week.
It’s the third dining experience - the $90 tasting menu served only on the weekends - that you’ll be thinking about for a month after you leave. While it lacks the casual fun of the Wednesday kamayan, it makes up for by offering stuff that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Boston, like a peanutty kare-kare stew with oxtail and eggplant, or a fried pastry filled with jackfruit that sits on top of cognac caramel. Even things like the brussels sprouts, which are on every “elevated pub menu” in town, will amaze you here, where they actually are elevated by being turned into a salad with lychee and crab.
If you’re worried that sharing a table with a handful of strangers might get a little awkward, keep in mind that you’ll also get excellent cocktails made with things like yam-infused genever, coconut wine, and roasted pineapple. But, ultimately, you probably won’t need the liquid courage - there’s something about dipping your countneck clam into the same bowl of garlic sauce as the stranger next to you that makes you forget about the shut-down button you normally push when someone tries to talk to you about the weather on the T.
It’s just damn cool, all of it. It’s the conversations you have around the table, it’s the sincerity of the two (yes, just two) people who work here and run the whole show, and it’s the outstanding food you’ll be telling people about for a long time. There are a lot of factors that go into making something cool - after all, your face tattoo won’t get the job done on its own if it reads “Live, Laugh, Love,” in kanji. If you want to see a place that not only combines all of those factors into one shipping container-sized room but also, in so doing, creates something that makes Boston more complete, head to Tanám.
For $70 every Wednesday night, you can sit down at a banana leaf table and eat seafood with some strangers. If you opt out because you either don’t like talking to people or are a staunch tablecloth traditionalist, you’ll miss out on giant lobsters, coconut-steamed clams, squash, mango, roasted pork, and a lot of other great things.
From Friday through Sunday, Tanam serves a $90 tasting menu in two different seatings. The menu changes frequently (and may be attached to a narrative, such as “the movement to reclaim ancient Filipinx food and herbalism traditions while living in the diaspora”) but you’ll probably end up with things like frogs leg empanadas, ginger shellfish soup, and squid simmered with soy and tomatoes.
Every night at 10pm, and all night on Thursdays, Tanam turns into a place for drinks and a la carte bites. Expect things like pork buns, wings, and noodle dishes.