Review: Sol Mar in Tarrytown

A Brazilian-Portuguese eatery in Tarrytown is comfortable, well-priced, and the food is (mostly) delish.



While not perfect, Sol Mar has enough charm and good eats to tempt you into a return visit

 

Sol Mar is just the kind of restaurant you want in your neighborhood. It’s not because every dish at this homey little Portuguese-Brazilian eatery is perfect, nor is it because we fell head over heels with one in particular. Rather, it is the comfortable feel of the place; the ease of sitting there as long as we wanted (able to actually hear each other speak); the gentle menu prices; the earnest, eager-to-please servers; and, of course, the generally good food.

We loved the warm Portuguese bread with its crisply flaky crust and pillowy interior. Loved it enough, in fact, to devour an entire basket while perusing the limited but well-designed menu. The offerings clearly make good use of the owners’ backgrounds—they hail from Caravela, a long-time area favorite. What the menu lacks in breadth—there were just over a dozen main courses listed on a recent visit—it makes up for in depth. The adventurous diner or the more cautious one, the carnivore or the pescetarian all will find offerings to suit their preferences.

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Vampires beware—the juicy shell steak is loaded with chunks of garlic

When it comes to soup, we’ll choose the shrimp-and-mussel bisque over the caldo verde. The tomato-based bisque was reminiscent of a slightly sweeter Manhattan clam chowder, with loads of appealing chunks of tender seafood. The caldo verde, on the other hand, was fairly classic, if uninspired: greens and lots of garlic along with smoky chorizo flavored a slightly gummy broth that may have been thickened with overworked puréed potato.

Potato was put to much better use in a wonderful version of Portuguese fried cod cakes. The football-shaped cakes, based on the dried cod that is so much a part of the cuisine, have a tendency to be assertively salty. Yet in Sol Mar’s version, a crisp, golden crust gave way to a perfectly creamy, mild, and slightly sweet filling, thanks to just enough puréed potato mixed with the fish.

For another great way to get your omega-3s, go for the sardine salad. Undressed greens are tossed with tomatoes, capers, and black olives and topped with four surprisingly chubby, tender, and fresh-tasting sardines; the salad is served in a lovely light vinaigrette with finely diced onion and tomato on the side.

Plump, juicy clams that tasted as though they’d just been pulled from the beach reveled in a steam bath of white wine, garlic, and cilantro, and a little too much Dijon mustard, which gave the broth a bitter edge. We’d try this dish again on an act of faith that the over-use of Dijon was a one-time oversight.

We aren’t likely to order the penne a cachaça again. This is simply a Portuguese/Brazilian version of penne a la vodka, with cachaça, the Brazilian liquor distilled from sugar-cane juice, as a stand-in for the vodka. The overtly sweet tomato, cream, and cachaça overwhelmed the shrimp and scallops.

The sweet port sauce served with tender pork and meaty portobello mushrooms, on the other hand, was intelligently balanced to enhance—not overwhelm—the earthy “umami” flavors. Nothing about this dish is particularly Brazilian or Portuguese, making it a good choice for less adventurous diners.

In two instances, dishes came to the table with temperature issues. Feijoada completa, the ubiquitous Brazilian stew of black beans, chunks of pork, and chorizo, was served lukewarm in a clay pot, accompanied by three small dishes of “stir-ins”: farofa (cassava meal), sautéed shredded greens, and the vinaigrette that accompanied the sardine salad. And a juicy, beefy, and piping-hot shell steak with olive oil and big chunks of unevenly cooked garlic (some were scorched while others bitingly undercooked) was cooked to perfection, but accompanied by cold—truly, cold—mashed potatoes. We sent the plate back and received an overcooked steak with our now steaming hot potatoes. We again called our server over, and again, he responded with concern and a true desire to right the wrong: on the third attempt, the steak was again perfect and the potatoes passably warm. While this is clearly a kitchen gaffe, it was handled so well that it helped us appreciate the homey character of the restaurant and the desire to please.

Desserts were a mixed bag. Cheesecake was waxy and a chocolate mousse was ordinary, but we’d certainly order creamy, egg-y, and sweet custard in a crisp phyllo cup or the classic flan with its slightly bitter caramel sauce again. In fact, despite the unevenness of our experiences at Sol Mar, we are likely to return. For as many dishes as missed the mark, there were good ones, and the environment and the price were just right.

Sol Mar ★★ 1/2

12 Main St, Tarrytown
(914) 333-0151

Hours: Lunch every day 12-4 pm, dinner every day 4-10 pm. Appetizers $10-$11; entrées: $20-$22; desserts: $8

★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
★★—Good ★—Fair

PHOTOS BY LINDSAY BURDICK