Tuesday, April 5, 2011

the tavern

we tried to visit the tavern on new year's eve when we were taking an omnivore friend out to dinner,  but when we arrived we discovered they had a special--and especially meaty--prix fixe menu which they neglected to post online.  one quiet unholiday evening last week, we found ourselves back there in the spirit for a celebration of some good local eats.

valley park

in an unassuming shopping center on dougherty ferry road, you might be in danger of missing the tavern's modest front while scanning the row of awnings.  you can tell from the decor and the vibe that the restaurant is a modern take on fresh farmhouse goods: big oak tables and a clean, open space feel homey yet contemporary.  the exposed kitchen helps to expand this small space, and really emphasizes the theme of re-imagined comfort food.  we love the painted white bar in the front--just like grandma's kitchen cabinets, but with a facelift...and better booze.

the hostess was friendly and started off the night on a good note.  the tavern does offer vegetarian and gluten-free menus, and there's a friendly reminder of their availability on the bottom of the regular menu in case you forget to ask for one when you arrive.  our server was not remarkable--she was attentive enough, but in that sort of enthusiastically fake-friendly way that makes us uncomfortable and reticent.  however, someone from the kitchen who brought us a few of our dishes was really helpful and more than happy to ask questions for us.  overall, we were satisfied with the service.

we started off with the kennebec chips, which are served with guacamole.  they also came with some kind of yogurty relish sauce, which was interesting.  we mean that only half euphemistically, because it was a little confusing and the flavor didn't seem to either complement or contrast the guac enough.  the guacamole was pretty heavy-handed with the lime, so it ended up being tangier and more acidic than we'd like.  still, it was nice to have some housemade dips, and we really liked the abundance of cilantro in the guac.  we're discovering that while we really dig kennebecs, we prefer them less fried to maximize on their taste and texture.  this was a learning experience for us.

next up was the baby spinach salad with tomato raisins, buffalo mozzarella, sunflower seeds, fresh basil, and banyuls vinaigrette.  this was the highlight of the meal.  the spinach was beautiful, plump, and velvety (as though fresh-plucked).  the sweet, tart tomato raisins, the understated richness of the small pieces of mozzarella, and the smooth, pungent warmth of roasted garlic was pitch-perfect.  and the vinaigrette, like a good beat in a song, unified all the elements to really give you something to nod yer head to. 

to conclude, we ordered the truffle mac and cheese and the grilled cheese.  the mac and cheese definitely tasted homemade, and there was actually a generous helping of mushrooms, which we loved.  it was a tad light on truffle, but the al dente noodles and the creaminess of the cheese (which wasn't too oily, and didn't separate) were really pleasant.  it was competent for a mac and cheese, but we're not sure it's something we'll crave.  the grilled cheese--made with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and gruyere on sourdough--was also abundant in mushrooms and quite balanced in ingredients.  you can see from the photo that we ordered it dry; buttered, it definitely would have been too rich for us.  again, this is a competent grilled cheese, but it's still just that: a grilled cheese and no more.  these are definitely comfort food classics, but it seems to us that to rise above all the others--and there are many versions of these favorites all over the city--you really have to re-invent the dishes.

we appreciate the thought and effort in making a whole separate vegetarian menu, and we definitely give the tavern props for offering a gluten-free menu, too.  we hate to sound discouraging, but in our opinion the tavern really underestimates what modern vegetarians need and want.  pasta and cheese do not suffice, and although we understand the theme of revamped comfort foods, there's nothing comforting about a menu offering three variations on one option.  the idea of a separate menu seems to promise more options but ends up feeling like a way for the kitchen to quickly feed the vegetarians so they can move on to the "real" dishes.  that having been said, we like that this is a place that shows it's willing to think about your vegetarian needs, so if you're out with omnivore friends, this is at least an option where everyone may find something. 


vegetarian-friendly score:
The Tavern Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

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