Tarry Lodge

on a rainy day

Tarry Lodge's exterior on a rainy day

18 Mill Street
Port Chester, New York
914.939.3111
www.tarrylodge.com

5 Second Summary:

Price Range- Salads/Antipasti ($5-12),  Pizzas ($10-14), Dinner entrees ($14-29) at time of posting
Ambiance- Casual chic
Cuisine- Classic and modern Italian
Hits- Knowledgeable wait staff, decor, great value, wine list
Misses- Some dishes are exceptional, while others are nothing to write home about.

Babbo, Lupa, Esca, Casa Mano, Bar Jamon, Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Del Posto.  Is there anything Mario Batale and Joseph Bastianich touch that doesn’t turn to gold?  The dynamic duo of Italian cooking, along with the influence of Spanish-born Culinary Institute alum Andy Nusser, have turned a former Port Chester speakeasy and long-time institution into a veritable gold mine.

Tarry Lodge Logo

I visited Tarry Lodge with a friend yesterday evening, and the place was hopping on a Monday night.  Well-dressed couples and animated groups of friends came in out of the cold and were warmly greeted by hosts.  The decor is homey and traditional, welcoming and warm: inviting, buttery-yellow walls with thick, ornate molding, patterned mustard-colored drapes, lovely black and white tile work, and wine bottles incorporated into the space to establish atmosphere and remind guests of the extensive wine list.  Round globe sconces and bronze fixtures lend the rooms an old world feel that achieves a home-away-from-home warmth.

Wine bottles as decor in Tarry Lodge's bar area

Wine bottles as decor in Tarry Lodge's bar area

My friend had heard mixed reviews, and we were both eager to sample the goods.  A tremendous fan of the dynamic duo’s downtown dining spot, Lupa, I still count their dessert of honeyed pears served out of a mason jar among my all-time favorites.  I was curious to see if Tarry Lodge would measure up to the pair’s other locations.

While waiting for our appetizers, we were treated to the house bread: a delicious, thick, coarsely salted, rosemary focaccia served with mixed olives.  I started my meal with an antipasto and an insalate. For the former, I was torn between farro with pomegranate and mint or the highly-touted blood oranges with fennel so widely written about and reviewed.  For the salad, I hesitated between a burrata on a bed of roasted root vegetables topped with Villa Manodori alceto (balsamic vinegar) and a delicious-sounding butternut sformato. Our waitress had a thorough understanding of the components of each dish and recommended the blood oranges over the farro and burrata over the sformato. I was extremely pleased with the latter suggestion but less so with the former.

Now let me share this: there are few pleasures in life greater than a fine mozzarella.  After working mere blocks away from Arthur Avenue, I am utterly spoiled and pine for homemade mozzarella that is soft, creamy… almost milky, if you will.  If there is any way to possibly make such a delicacy even better, it is a burrata. Key to this artisanal cheese is its freshness.  Burrata, which means “buttered” in Italian, is an outer layer of fresh, white buffalo mozzarella filled with a soft mixture of mozzarella and cream.  This inner layer has the texture of ricotta, and it simply melts in one’s mouth.  Served simply with pepper and crystals of rock salt, the burrata was divine.  The bed of root vegetables beneath it, however, was godly.  Small rectangles of butternut squash, squares of celery root, and strips of parsnip gave the dish a playful sense of texture.  The mild balsamic was extraordinary and lingered with arugula and sweet, caramelized onion.  The dish was what I love best: simple, unadulterated, seasonal flavors allowed to be what they are without too much fanfare.  The care taken to shape the different root vegetables was a subtle gourmet touch in the dish’s otherwise coarse, rustic beauty.  This dish reminds me of the fresh, simple goodness of meals prepared when I visit friends’ country houses in Italy:  clean, earthy vegetables pulled from the honest soil of their gardens only hours earlier.  It was amazing and transported me to simpler times and simpler pleasures.

The fennel and blood orange, although a combination I enjoy, didn’t do much for me.  The flavor of the fennel was largely cooked out, which was a miss.  All that was left of this glorious bulb was its crunch, accentuated by the occasional pomegranate seed.  The blood oranges weren’t terribly flavorful either.  A lovely olive oil and some black olives gave the dish salty, savory undercurrents.  However, the sweetness of the blood orange, which should have balanced the dish out, was oddly absent.  I did not finish the dish and was disappointed that the waitress did not notice.  I regretted not ordering the sformato, a slightly denser version of a souffle, which when well-executed, is incredible.

My friend had sweet peppers al forno, or oven-baked, which were tender and delicious.  She also had octopus with baby potatoes.  Since octopus is a favorite of hers, I was curious to hear her thoughts, and she spoke very highly of the dish’s flavors.

For my entree, I had pumpkin lune, round full moon ravioli-like pockets, with sage butter.  The pumpkin was a fantastic alternative to its commonly used, sweeter cousin: butternut squash.  The filling was just sweet enough to provide contrast to the sage, but it was not too sweet.  The lune were light, soft, and “barely there,” a compliment to their subtlety in texture.  Perfectly filled and generously portioned, the dish was exactly the pasta I would expect to bear the Batali-Bastianich stamp.

I couldn’t resist dessert and tried a simple biscotti plate; the assortment included buttery pistachio and plain chocolate chip biscotti served in a wooden scoop.  My friend, widely known in certain circles for her extraordinary biscotti baking abilities, did not care for  them.  She preferred more of a crunch, so one would want to dip them into tea or coffee.  Hmmm… I guess she’s just a tough cookie! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the shameless pun.)  I, on the other hand, found them light, airy, and just soft enough to eat with or without tea.  I enjoyed them immensely and found flavor, texture, and presentation pleasing.

I don’t say this often, but Tarry Lodge is definitely a place I would visit again.  I prefer trying something new to frequenting the same haunts, but Tarry Lodge had simply too many tempting options to sample during a single visit.  The affordability and value were an added bonus, making me even more likely to make the unlikely trip to Port Chester.  My friend was impressed, as was I.  With a BANG! and a POW!, our culinary dynamic duo has once again saved Gotham with a flap of their apron-capes.  If Batali and Bastianich were looking to create a cozy, comfortable, and trendy dinner spot that brings patrons back for repeat business, it looks like they’re on the right track.

Follow-up Dinner on 21 June 2009:

We took my father, along with a party of 10, to Tarry Lodge for Fathers’ Day.  Our visit started at the bar.  The wine list is more far more extensive than the dining menu with hundreds of wines sorted by Italian region with a separate section for “Wines Our Friends Make.”

Tarry Lodge bar area

Tarry Lodge bar area

We started off with eggplant caponata (overall, I wasn’t impressed with the eggplant dishes tonight, which I found bitter) and a charcuterie board.

Eggplant Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

Charcuterie Board (in the background: Clam, Garlic, Oregano Pizza)

Charcuterie Board (in the background: Clam, Garlic, Oregano Pizza)

Since I hadn’t sampled the pizzas the first time around, we went heavy on appetizer pies.  My brother had read about the clam pizza in GQ Magazine, where it was named one of the top 10 pizzas.   The pie is cooked with the clams in the shell to prevent them from getting rubbery.  Indeed, they were sweet, soft, and served in the shell on top of a strongly salty and cheese-based crust.

I had an incredible smoked mozzarella with pancetta and grilled eggplant pizza.  The smokiness of the cheese and the salt of the pancetta complemented each other perfectly, and the eggplant, in comparison, lent a bit of sweetness.

Smoked Mozzarella with Pancetta and Grilled Eggplant Pizza

Smoked Mozzarella with Pancetta and Grilled Eggplant Pizza

My sister was quite pleased with her prosciutto, tomato, mozzarella, and arugula pizza.  The nutty flavor of the greens and the salt of the prosciutto went nicely.  The prosciutto was less salty than the pancetta.

Prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, and arugula pizza

Prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, and arugula pizza

My sister’s boyfriend had the spicy pepperoni with pecorino romano.  This pie was not for the timid or mild of palate.  The flavors were strong and heavy-handed on the cheese.

Spicy Pepperoni with Pecorino Romano Pizza

Spicy Pepperoni with Pecorino Romano Pizza

For my entree, I had the skirt steak with an heirloom tomato panzanella.  I can rarely resist “testing” a chef’s ability to handle a tough piece of meat, and this cut came out perfectly flavorful and tender at medium-rare.  The panzanella (cucumber, arugula, red onion, bread cubes, and a single, miserly tomato half) had nice flavor.

My brother ordered an incredible whole branzino with roasted potatoes, which was duly deboned at his request.  It was also served with a slightly caramelized lemon half, a lovely touch.

Whole Roasted Branzino with Roasted Potatoes

Whole Roasted Branzino with Roasted Potatoes

Rich was quite pleased with his gnocchi with braised oxtail.  The gnocchi were light and plump.  The oxtail was rich and tender.

Gnocchi with Braised Oxtail

Gnocchi with Braised Oxtail

Finally, we come to desserts, which I frightfully neglected last time due to a full belly and an inane attempt to remain ladylike.  My mother had fresh, ripe strawberries served with creamy mascarpone cheese, which she enjoyed.

Strawberries with Mascarpone

Strawberries with Mascarpone

Rich and I both had panna cotta, which means “cooked cream” in Italian.  Like much of Batali’s menu, it is a Northern Italian confection made from heavy cream, milk, sugar, and gelatin.  Served with grapefruit sorbet (tart and strong flavored although we didn’t care for it) and candied rhubarb (incredible!), the panna cotta itself was light and creamy with the perfect texture.

Panna Cotta with Candied Rhubarb and Grapefruit Sorbet

Panna Cotta with Candied Rhubarb and Grapefruit Sorbet

My aunt and brother had the dessert stars of the night, chocolate cake with bitter oranges and pistachio gelato.  I rarely order chocolate cake for dessert because I feel like they’re often mundane and rather humdrum.  This chocolate cake? Not so much.  Delicious, moist, and rich, what made the dessert was the bitter orange on the side, a perfect complement to the fine-quality dark chocolate.  The pistachio gelato rounded out the flavors and made it over-the-top-delicious.

Chocolate Cake with Bitter Oranges and Pistachio Gelato

Chocolate Cake with Bitter Oranges and Pistachio Gelato

My uncle, a chef, had a tiramisu that was rather insipid and dull.  To its credit, it was light and airy, but the flavors didn’t come through strongly at all- a total miss.  Clear the kids out of the room before I tell you what he called it.  Are they gone? Okay. He said it was, “strictly missionary.”  A bit bawdy but, unfortunately, true.

Lastly, our service was not as great as the first time around.  Our waiter was definitely knowledgeable about the dishes, but service was slower, and our food arrived with considerable timing delays (i.e., not all entrees served together).  Perhaps we didn’t get as much attention because the restaurant was crowded; perhaps it was due to the fact that we were a large table.  At any rate, the food had more “hits” than “misses” and was well worth the very reasonable tab.







One Response to “Tarry Lodge”

  1. […] samples of “Guaranteed the BEST Mozzarella in the Country… period!” (see my previous rants on the quality of mozzarella).  Panzarella’s offers prepared foods, including bottled tomato sauce, artisan cheese pizza, […]

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