Such honesty from a waiter — “Oh, I wouldn’t get the pizza. The crust is soggy.” — I can’t decide whether it’s refreshing or problematic. I suppose if subpar food is on the menu, an honest waiter is the one you want. Such is my introduction to Tarrant’s West, the West End expansion of the popular downtown restaurant, Tarrant’s Cafe.
Chef and owner Ted Santarella has taken the menu from Tarrant’s and the over-the-top décor of its across-the-street neighbor, Max’s on Broad, and created Tarrant’s West, a restaurant as sprawling in size as it is in menu choices. Stepping through the door whisks you far away from sterile suburbia. Clearly a lot of love has been put into this place. There is, actually, a lot of everything: wood paneling, faux brick, distressed relief damask, at least 10 different types of light fixtures, and lots and lots of tile. Only the neutral tones keep it from completely overwhelming.
Back to the food: “Why are there so many choices on the menu?” I ask the too-honest waiter. “The owner doesn’t want you to have to go anywhere else to eat,” is the reply. And it’s this simple statement that unlocks the mystery that is Tarrant’s West.
From the eclectic interior design, to the menu with more than 100 choices, it’s clear that Tarrant’s West is trying to be whatever you want it to be. Looking for a diner with chicken wings, a cheeseburger and some subs? Or fancy a bistro with surf-and-turf and grilled scallops? Or how about grabbing a beer and some pizza at a neighborhood bar? Whatever your pleasure, Tarrant’s West is your place.
Except that it’s difficult if not impossible to be all things to all people. Unsurprisingly, a kitchen trying to churn out this much variety fails to produce much high quality. The waiter is right — the pizza crust is a little limp, and the chicken white Florentine variety ($13.50-$21.95) needs some seasoning. Fried chicken and waffles ($18.95), however, are perfectly executed with salty, crispy skin and moist meat. The maple tahini syrup has me wanting to lick my plate. But the waffle tastes as bland and dense as one from a cheap hotel’s buffet.
I’m told seafood is truly the specialty, so I try she-crab soup ($6.95/$9.95), rich with cream and sherry, but disappointingly lacking in crabmeat. Oyster tacos (two for $10.95) feature a tangy slaw offsetting wonderfully plump and crisp fried oysters, but the tortilla falls apart as soon as I pick it up. Tilapia stuffed with crabmeat ($22.95) comes swimming in an overly salty sauce, advertised as lobster cream sauce, but with no discernible lobster meat or flavor to be found.
This isn’t to say a good meal can’t be had at Tarrant’s West. My wife’s ahi tuna appetizer ($16.50) features simple, clean flavors of fresh fish, sesame seeds and a soy dipping sauce. Similarly, the flourless chocolate cake, served refreshingly chilled on a warm evening, is excellent. Unfortunately, these are fairly simple dishes that don’t justify the price tag of dining at Tarrant’s West, where many entrées come close to the $30 mark.
Given the popularity of the downtown Tarrant’s location, I doubt the one-size-fits-all approach will change. But hopefully, the kitchen will start to pay more attention to the quality of the vast array of dishes it’s producing. S
11129 Three Chopt Road
Mondays-Saturdays 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m.-11 p.m.