Tabu, which opened in 2001 and recently changed hands, serves up everything from Hip-Hop and Salsa Dance Nights to something the new owners term Nuevo Latino Cuisine.

Downstairs there's also Monday Night Football and Live Jazz Wednesdays while the upstairs functions as a dining room until 10 late in the week and on weekends before giving itself over to la danza.

However, on a recent Friday night we trooped upstairs and found ourselves amid a cheery family crowd enjoying dinner.

The space is not actually small, but the deep ochre walls contribute to a cozy and somewhat exotic impression. Of course, adorning the walls with striking African masks (for sale) increases the sense of exoticism albeit one an ocean removed from Latin America.

Our server didn't seem harried but it did take a while for our drink orders to be taken. For my money, all servers younger than 20 should be schooled in the habits of men over 55 and learn to recognize their looks of naked anguish until served their first libation.

My wife had something called a "Margratini" for $9. It was an OK margarita but one gathers the martini glassware lends it extra panache. I had a Wild Turkey Manhattan at $6, which was curiously harsh for a call bourbon.

My wife went for the Ceviche appetizer and it was large and delicious, justifying its $11 price. Other interesting appetizers are less expensive, from $5 to $8. I went for a favorite of mine, pozole, which was heralded as having a "rich, spicy broth" and even some cotija cheese.

Both of these elements were missing from a rather bland soup that contained garbanzo beans, hominy and some shredded mystery meat.

Returning, we sampled and purchased a bottle of Viu Manent Secreto Viognier from Chile, a very tasty wine, not at all cloying or perfumed like so many from the USA — and only $20. The rest of the wine list is fairly priced and relies almost exclusively on South American and Spanish producers.

The special this night was pan-seared steak and shrimp with mashed potatoes and marionberry-chipotle sauce for $23.

However, leaning more to the Latin choices, I went for Pollo el Diablo at $17 that came with a cumin and coriander crust and was accompanied by peppers, onions, arroz verde, and a black bean and nopalito salad. The chicken was very good and the accompanying vegetables, rice and salad were terrific.

My wife ordered Duck Tamales for $15. I glanced at the menu and saw these were made in-house and contained the marionberry-chipotle sauce. Sadly, the Duck Tamales were perfectly acceptable in every way except they didn't taste like duck. In sum, the pozole and the duck didn't seem to have benefited from the Nuevo Latino treatment.

I have spent a lot of time in Latin America and the good dishes always taste good in their fundamental state without salsas or accompanying starches. To be sure, those complementary items will harmonize and enhance most dishes, but my impressions always have been of stunning freshness that supplied full flavors in the basic offering.

Perhaps Tabu is a bit conflicted about what its actual mission is in Ashland. Is it dance and music or high-end tequila flights or food? On the other hand, it is obviously popular and our experience will bring us back.

Tabu is about to unveil its new menu and this in itself should energize the chef anew. Reservations are accepted for parties of six or more.

— Hubert Smith

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