I am instinctively suspicious of restaurants owned by celebrity chefs because I’ve been to some that are real stinkers (hello Michael Cain – UK super chef…I’m talking about you). The more restaurants a chef owns the less likely I imagine it is that they are paying close attention to the fine details. It is one thing to have a good menu and a lovely dining room, and quite another to deliver on the restaurant’s potential. So, I was mildly suspicious that I wouldn’t like Tarry Lodge, the Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich collaboration in Port Chester.
Despite my jaded view of celebrity chefs, Brian and I made the short drive over to Port Chester to give it a try, and to check out (briefly) Port Chester. Part of our reason for heading that way was non-culinary: we’ve been trying to explore some of the other towns in Westchester to see if there is one that we like more than White Plains. White Plains is fine – very convenient and some good larger stores (like Whole Foods and an Apple Store) (and we love our apartment) – but it lacks very much in terms of local shops, restaurants and cafés. There are also, oddly, not that many nice places to eat unless you want to go to a chain or a slightly strange Italian-Argentinian steakhouse.
Back to Port Chester…
The Tarry Lodge is a super lovely restaurant with beautiful floors (tile in the lower level and black wood in the mezzanine), attentive wait staff, and utterly delicious food. We went for lunch/brunch and I had the pre-fixe two-course menu ($20, a relative steal at this nice of a restaurant). For my starter I had Nora’s chopped salumi salad which had artichokes, romaine, provolone, olives, a few types of cured meats chopped together with a simple Italian dressing. It reminded me of the salads that I’ve eaten hundreds of times with my Sicilian relatives, but elevated and refined in a way that made it taste fresh and modern. At my father’s old restaurants this kind of salad would was called an antipasto salad, but it would have had slices of meats, cheeses, olives and pepperoncino on top of the lettuces. Somehow, having everything chopped made all the difference. The quality of the ingredients definitely helped. For my entrée, I had a clam and linguine pasta with chili and bacon in a light brodetto. It was totally delicious. I could eat it every day.
Brian had a starter of the Tarry salad, which was a simple green salad with white bean dressing. It had a tasty lemony dressing and really well-balanced flavors. For his entree, he had one of the brunch specials: Spaghetti Alla Genovese (spaghetti with pesto, potatoes, roasted peppers and green beans). The pesto was excellent – sometimes when I make it I put too much garlic in it and often when we have it out at restaurants there is too much salt added. This pesto was the perfect mix of flavors with the basil really shining as the star of the dish. Yummy.
We didn’t have any wine or desserts, but we definitely decided we’d need to make a return trip. After eating, we walked next door to the Tarry Market and the Tarry wine shop – two outposts of the restaurant that offer fresh produce, prepared foods, Italian specialties and a wide range of wines. The market was a bit on the expensive side, but we picked up a few deli items (Giardiniera – Italian pickled vegetables, fresh asiago, olives, artichoke heats), some focaccia, some lettuce and a bottle of wine. I also had a super tasty cortado and Brian had a cup of tea. The wine we bought was a delicious Perrini Organic Negroamaro (2011) that the wine shop clerk said was ‘smoking hot’ at the moment (as in – selling fast). It was about $15 and he was totally right. We loved it. Fruity cherry with an intense, rich flavor that you expect from a Negroamara. Here is a photo of the bottle in case you want to grab yourself one (or a dozen – seriously good stuff):
After eating a shopping, we had a very quick look up and down the street in Port Chester before we had to dash off to run a few errands before our ZipCar time ran out, so we didn’t get a full picture of Port Chester. From what we can see of the town it looks like it is very mixed – some really rough-looking areas and some really beautiful ones. The main take away was a bit of surprise that there seems to be some nice markets and shops in Port Chester that are missing in White Plains. We can’t work out why WP wouldn’t have some of the nicer amenities that smaller towns up here seem to have. I guess if and when we get a car, we might not feel as much of a need for a cute local café, but I’m hoping there are some hiding here that we haven’t found yet. If you know of anything good in White Plains let us know…we’re hunting for the local, bespoke and delicious in this very conveniently located commuter hub.