Italian, Old-World Style, Served Up at Tarry Lodge of Westport
Located in bustling, seaside Westport, Tarry Lodge (the second of three established by famous restaurateurs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich) serves as a casual and accessible venue for well-executed Italian favorites, as well as innovative dishes.
Tarry lodge prides itself on being an enoteca (a specialized or regional wine store), with the entirety of one of the restaurant’s walls dedicated to built-in shelving that houses their abundant wine selection. The elegant restaurant space also features a marble bar with a centralized, wood-fired pizza oven – core to several of Tarry Lodge’s dish preparations – that includes diner seating.
The menu is broken up into six traditional Italian categories: antipasti, insalate, pizza, pasta, secondi, and dolce. True to Italian cooking philosophy, ingredients are of the utmost importance. “We try to source everything as locally as possible,” manager Melina Skehan stresses, “for instance, the pork in the polpette comes from Fleisher's Craft Butchery, right around the corner.” It’s these sorts of ingredients, combined with a reverence for truly traditional Italian cuisine, that brings out the abundance of flavors and textures in this sampling of Tarry Lodge’s menu.
Burrata Heirloom Caprese
The seasonally appropriate flavor of the tomatoes gets full billing in this dish, composed of heirloom varieties of varying sizes. Bigger and firmer tomatoes comprise the foundation of the dish. These provide a sturdy, pleasantly-firm texture and meatiness, while smaller, halved cherry tomatoes on top erupt with their characteristicly sweet, summer flavor. The addition of burrata is almost extraneous, offering an indulgent creamy and chewiness.
The pea shoots and arugula atop the dish complement the acidity and sweetness of the drizzled balsamic vinegar, lending it a complex and brightly herbal bitterness. Extra virgin olive oil and fresh cracked pepper finish the plate, serving as the icing on this multi-layer dish.
Polpette (Heritage Meatballs and Sugo)
The polpette (meatballs) presents a truly Italian color scheme, waving the nation’s definitive colors: white, red, and green. Red from the earthy and rich sugo sauce; white from the freshly ground parmesan; green from the freshly chopped herbs. The meatballs carry a pleasant and finely ground consistency, antithetical to the “chewy bits” so often found in less professional grinds. The sugo is a world of flavor onto itself, with a flavor dark, rich, and full, tempered by the smoky, slight gaminess of the ground pork.
Hen of the Woods with Arugula, Lemon, and Thyme
The hen of the woods salad is served simply, letting the wild fungus’ natural flavor dominate the dish. Neither overdressed nor over seasoned, the plate’s stark presentation allows the earthy and mildly nutty flavors of the mushroom to speak for itself. A bit of citrus helps prevent an excess of that earthiness, as does the slightly herbaceous touch of thyme, and the simple arugula salad with flecks of parmesan cheese, while delicious, does not steal the show.
Guanciale Pizza with Black Truffles and Egg
Fresh from their wood-fired oven, Tarry Lodge’s guanciale pizza carries a complex, pungent, and robust aroma that pervades the table. The pizza’s toppings are comprised of a gorgonzola and mozzarella cheese blend, with egg and thinly sliced guanciale (cured pork cheek) beneath it. Also, there are shaved black truffles layered on top. Lots of them.
Translucently thin slices of guanciale lie nearly invisibly on the pie and provide a prosciutto-like, salty, full-bodied deliciousness; the complex, funky flavor of the gorgonzola is tempered nicely with the creaminess of the mozzarella; the egg provides an interesting texture and a familiar richness that serves to bolster the other ingredients, especially the truffles; and the egg yolk remains liquid, in the center of the pizza for dipping. Salty, earthy, funky, creamy: this pizza seems almost an Italian homage to the American breakfast sandwich; Batali-Bastanich, Neopolitan pizziolo style.
It’s worth noting that even with the intense interplay of ingredients on this pizza, one yet unmentioned element reigns supreme: the crust. Paradoxically both chewy and crispy, it retains an impressive rigidity under the weight of its many delicious toppings.
Garganelli (Sautéed Mushrooms)
Hand-rolled egg pasta, delivered fresh from Tarry Lodge’s Port Chester location, comes served with a mix of sautéed cremini, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms paired with razor-thin garlic slices. The pasta is cooked al dente, possessing an exceptional firmness common in Italy yet rare to find in the U.S. The trifecta of mushrooms help create a rich, earthy, authentically Italian experience.
Whole Branzino served with Grilled Fennel and Lemon Jam
Terry Lodge’s branzino – sometimes known as “European Sea Bass” – is served whole, the golden skin covered with uniform char marks and topped with a smattering of fresh parsley. The fish has a delightfully delicate consistency, unburdened by an excess of bones; the skin provides an potent surge of saltiness and balances the dish with a perfectly crispy texture.
On the side, grilled fennel comes served with pea shoots, as well as a small dish of bright-yellow lemon confit. The fennel is bitter and herbaceous, pairing well with the succulent fish. The lemon confit provides a contrast that is equally sweet and tart, and even slightly bitter, helping to serve the overall flavor balance of the dish.
Although Italian restaurants are a common find in nearly any town in New England, discovering one that stays true to the roots of that culture’s traditional cuisine is something more exceptional, and while we may not all be blessed with an Italian grandmother to prepare dishes for us, it’s comforting to know that a meal at Tarry Lodge of Westport will more than suffice.
Tarry Lodge: 30 Charles St., Westport; 203-571-1038