Sophisticated northern Italian cuisine just south of our border
Rack of lamb
photograph by Eric Laignel
Photographs by Bob Capazzo
As if a long-awaited suburban restaurant from food stars Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich didn’t have enough going for it, this classic trattoria — a stylish renovation of a family favorite — opened in just the right place at the right time. Instead of locating their new eatery in a tonier Westchester town, the culinary celebs revived an old establishment in down-to-earth Port Chester, which has become an ethnic food destination in its own right. The Italian cuisine from chef Andy Nusser is fresh, authentic and delicious, yet the prices are also down to earth ($14 pasta dishes and $19 entrées). Just what we’re all craving right about now.
Inside the 102-year-old building, with its striking olive exterior, is handsome, marble-laden décor and a chic crowd to match. On a recent Saturday night, the long, gleaming bar was packed with diners and standing guests, juggling their wine glasses and cocktails while waiting for tables. Thanks to a cleverly compartmentalized space, Tarry Lodge is almost like a few mini restaurants in one: the hip, higher-decibel bar room, a somewhat quieter mezzanine-level section, and on the other side of black velvet drapes, a dining room with a more formal ambience.
Beyond the see-and-be-seen bar, the new Tarry Lodge is, like the old one, a great place to drink wine with friends or take the kids for thin-crust pizza. It’s casual enough to bring the children along on date night if your sitter cancels (I have spotted a handful of kids each time I’ve been there). Family-style dining is encouraged by the service: Our pasta, pizza and main courses came out one at a time, allowing us to pace ourselves and savor each one.
Now about that pizza. Fans of the Batali-Bastianich restaurants in Manhattan (Babbo is the flagship) may be reminded of Otto, which also offers an array of pizzas and pastas at sensible prices. But chef Andy Nusser explained to me the difference: Otto’s pizza is griddle-cooked and broiled, while Tarry Lodge pies are prepared in a traditional wood-burning oven. These crispy-crusted pizzas ($10 to $16) with decadent toppings like the guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon), black truffles and a sunnyside egg, are easily shared (recipe). At a recent lunch, a friend and I dove into the mozzarella, tomato, prosciutto and arugula pizza (the edges of the meat crisp from the oven’s heat) and immediately concluded that this is the real thing. “It’s just like the pizza we ate in piazzas in Florence,” said my Italian-by-marriage friend who has eaten her way around the Boot.
Earlier, we sampled antipasti (starting at $5), picking a selection of verdura, pesce and carne. We especially liked Sweet Peppers “al Forno,” in a light marinade punctuated with whole coriander seeds. Eggplant Caponata is served up in a garlicky sauce with capers and pine nuts. Equally worth trying are Baccala, a lovely, creamy salt cod spread, and Armandino’s Salumi, a trio of handmade, cured meats.
For a lighter lunch or cool starter, try the Vitello Tonnato, a summertime staple in Italy. The thinly sliced, chilled veal topped with a lemony tuna dressing and a mound of arugula makes for a refreshing dish.
Of course, the pasta is a must-order. We dug into a terrine of Fusilli á l`a Crazy Bastard (in homage to the New Yorker cartoon of Rigatoni talking to his friend on the phone, “Fusilli, you Crazy Bastard! How are you?”). And this fusilli is feeling good — dressed in a creamy goat cheese sauce with tomatoes and walnuts. Other tempting options include black fettuccine with lobster and chiles, pumpkin lune with sage butter and a classic pappardelle Bolognese.
Grilled Lamb Chops with Roasted Shii-takes come arranged in a pyramid, resting on a bed of cubed squash, golden raisins, and whole mint leaves with a candied scallion garnish. It’s a great contrast in textures: chargrilled and crispy but beautifully pink inside. The so-tender-you- can-eat-it-with-a-spoon Brasato al Barolo with Polenta and Horseradish is comfort food at its best. Fluke Francese with Artichokes and Capers is well-prepared but not quite as memorable.
Your choices for wine to pair with all of this are abundant. As you might expect from a vineyard owner who’s written a book on Italian wines, the list from Greenwich-resident Joe Bastianich is rich and varied. If you’re in the mood for dessert (somehow I can always eat ice cream), consider the Tarry Lodge sundae, a trio of gelatos topped with biscotti and sour cherries. Like the rest of the food we tried, it can be summed up in two words: molto bene.
18 Mill Street
Port Chester, NY 10573