A Temperamental Tarry
A neighborhood spot that has its ups (Wagyu hamburger, anyone?) and its downs
Oh, what a bumpy ride! It started off smoothly enough: We loved the lively neighborhood vibe, the comfortable homegrown look of the place, and the friendly service at Tarry Tavern. The golden fried calamari with not even a smidgen of grease, served over arugula with a tangy, slightly sweet piquillo-pepper vinaigrette, kept our spirits high, as did the creamy, smooth, chicken-liver mousse, which we’d happily turn into a weekly habit. The beets, which had star billing in a mâche salad, were oddly bland, but the candied pistachios and dark, intensely sweet medjool purée lent plenty of sweetness, even if the beets left us longing. But that was a tiny misstep, certainly in comparison to The Bone Marrow Incident.
When the split shank bone landed on our table, the first thing we noticed was its size: it must have been six inches long. Impressive, yes, but the marrow was firm—and pinkish red. Marrow should be gelatinous; creamy white, and with a lovely sheen. The top was warm to the touch, but we scooped out a spoonful and found that, just under the surface, the marrow was ice cold. And bloody. The waitress apologized and returned a full eight minutes later with the same marrowbone, missing spoonful and all. At least this time it was cooked right. And, yes, we were charged fully for the dish.
Before the bill came, our journey continued on its bumpy way. Lovely, moist branzini with a cauliflower purée and a raisin-olive tapenade was well balanced, and included what we came to recognize as the chef’s signature of a sweet element. Tuna, requested rare, was cooked to a sad shade of gray. A ho-hum chickpea purée didn’t help the texture, and the soy-caramel sauce (there’s that sweet touch again) couldn’t save this dish.
Salvation that night came from both land and sea. A Berkshire pork chop, beautifully browned and crisp on the outside and juicy inside, had the full, earthy pork flavor for which the breed is known. And, oh, how we loved the fatty, salty, thick squares of crispy belly (uncured bacon) with which it was served! Every element on the plate worked perfectly: pickled red cabbage, buttery spaetzle, and the tangy-sweet apple mostarda sauce. Not to be outdone by four-legged land-dwellers, octopus strutted its tender stuff in a lusty toss of warm chunks of soft potatoes; slightly wilted, peppery arugula; salty-sharp olives; and a rich lemon aioli.
Desserts didn’t have the range of the rest of our meal: they went from mediocre to decent, although we did love the creamy, flavorful ice creams with which they were often served. Apple cobbler had a pasty topping; warm chocolate cake won a point or two for its moist texture but lost them again for bland flavor; the cheese plate consisted of a pedestrian and unbalanced selection, but dense chocolate bread pudding with crème anglaise helped us end our evening on a better note. And yet: what to think after such a crazy, turbulent meal of ups and downs?
We left that first visit puzzling over the inconsistency and the very mission of the restaurant. When the conceit of a restaurant is locally grown and seasonal market offerings, it is baffling to find braised pork with chestnuts and rutabaga on a menu with corn ravioli and plum. But find them we did—and ordered them, too, on our next visit.
The plums were just an aside to a starter billed as burrata cheese—but this was a burrata unlike any we’d seen. Not creamy or soft, not particularly rich and milky, but remarkably like mozzarella that had been left in a warm kitchen for a couple of hours.
As we write this, the earliest corn is coming in—and it is certainly not yet worth featuring on a seasonal menu. Perhaps that is why, several weeks ago, the chewy ravioli was only sparsely filled with it. Risotto also suffered from undercooking. However, we scarfed down the perfectly seared Maine scallops with their shimmering, slightly translucent centers, which sat atop the risotto. Corn fared better sautéed as an accompaniment to perfectly executed, crisply seared, moist, and clean-tasting salmon. We hit the jackpot on this one: simple, straightforward, and perfectly cooked. The Wagyu burger was juicy and full of hearty beef flavor, and the salty-sweet bacon-onion was a winner. But it was heartbreaking to see a burger this good accompanied by greasy fries.
Desserts were no better than on our previous visit. Blueberry-rhubarb tart has not even a hint of the tartness for which rhubarb is known, and a carrot cake (more like a quick bread) was missing its essential carrot flavor and character—and frosting. Rice pudding was charmingly served in a small jar, but—like the rhubarb cobbler—tasted more of sweetness than of any particular flavor.
And yet, for all its flaws, Tarry Tavern did have its shining moments: the calamari, chicken-liver mousse, tender scallops, burger, pork chop, and the octopus dish were all well worth returning for. And stick to ice cream for dessert.
Tarry Tavern ★★
27 Main St, Tarrytown
(914) 631-7227; tarrytavern.com
Hours: lunch, Mon to Sat 12-3 pm; dinner, Sun to Thurs 3-9:30 pm, Fri 3-10 pm, Sat 3-10:30 pm
Appetizers: $7-$9; entrées: $14-$21
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
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