Despite our policy of avoiding new restaurants within their first month, we bowed to (persistent editorial) pressure and swanned into Tarry Lodge. Here are some first impressions.
One: we’re baffled by the personal touch. We barged into the dining room still screaming down our cellphone from the sidewalk, only to run bang into Joe Bastianich manning the podium. Whaaat? The man’s got about 30 high-profile restaurants, an olive oil business, an Italian wine shop, book projects, Italian vineyards, multiple wine labels (plus other concerns too numerous to mention), and here he is greeting Tarry Lodge’s diners at the door. Listen, I’ve been to most of the Bastianich/Batali restaurants—many quite frequently—and I’ve never seen him present. I mean, you don’t see Jeffrey Chodorow at China Grill, fiddling endlessly with the thermostat. You don’t see Drew Nieporent sitting down for a family dinner at Nobu. Yet that’s exactly what we saw Joe Bastianich do that night.
Two: diners actually have a hope of getting tables at Tarry Lodge. We sat next to a very sweet group of four who just wandered in at 5:30 and were seated on a Friday night. (And FYI—the kitchen is open until 11pm.) While it’s wise to reserve, Tarry Lodge saves some of its tables for walk-ins. You might have to wait a bit, but then, you might not—especially if you’re willing to eat during restaurant “shoulder-season,” the hours before seven and after nine.
Three: the food is really good. Really good. We had a totally ravishing crudo (actually—a ‘scabece,’ more like a pickle) of fluke with shaved fennel and celery, heavily doused with La Mozza olive oil and gritty sea salt. It was just lovely — though, admittedly, we were primed for relief. We’d been working on a cheap eats feature and had chilidogs coming out of our ears. We loved a clean, crisp and very pretty beet agrodolce, also pickle-esque, which was another palate soother after all that street meat, plus, we had a delicious cooling salad of farro, the ancient Italian grain. It was tossed with charred, bursting kernels of sweet corn and mint, and reminded us of—though it was better than—tabouleh. Plus, it held a sexy wedge of burrata, that lusher, loucher cousin of fior de latte.
Three (deux): we went for the carne mista, or mixed slice meats, which featured speck and Armandino’s salumi. (Those you might recognize: Mario Batali’s father—a former Boeing executive—lost his mind after Mario’s success, devoting himself to the religion of salumi.) These were all delicious, of course, but also interesting. It was fun to compare the prosciutto San Daniele (from the Bastianichs’ native region, Friuli-Venezia) with the insanely well-received La Quercia Prosciutto Americano. To our palates, the San Daniele had more character, more leather-scented, porky oomph – though that’s been debated.
Our pizza with guanciale, black truffles and sunnyside egg was better than we expected—and we expected a lot. This pizza crust had a briny/yeasty profile that we associate with Frank Pepe’s epic New Haven joint, though TL’s pizza has a much finer crumb and fewer black, carbon-y charred spots. Tarry Lodge’s pizza goes Pepe’s a few better with finer cheeses and truffles, plus, the hint of perfumy woodsmoke does it no harm. And, truffles aside, they kinda already had us at silky, slippy egg yolk and guanciale.
Having ordered pizza, we skipped pasta and instead shared a yummy, simple split branzino with a subtle, smoked tomato jam. Folks, the fish was good, but we could have eaten these smoky, yet bursting-with-juice tomatoes three times a day for the next three weeks and not gotten OD’d. (Which we cannot say of chilidogs.)
Four: it’s reasonably priced – in fact, Tarry Lodge offers great value. The crudo that haunts my dreams? $10. The incredible farro (and the beets)? $5 The divine guanciale/truffle/egg pizza (whose leftovers our evil life partner stole)? $14. In fact, barring a non-representative grilled ribeye for two at $60, most mains are under $25, and most pizzas and pastas are under $15. You could spend more at Red Lobster—by all reports.