Oh Boyardee!

Tarantino's Italian-American comfort fare is filling but unchallenging

Tarantino's is meant to be a joint. Despite the memorable digs, the bold artwork and the cushy lounge next door, the kitchen is at its best with unsophisticated recipes and simple, one-dimensional, inoffensive flavors--the kind of "everyman" goal that made Italian-American dishes so popular way back when. There's something comforting about mac and cheese washed down by a decent $5 wine.

Then again...we ordered mussels to start our second visit. They were an inconsistent, modest-grade lot: some tough and leathery, others delicate. Only a few carried the beautiful, earthy flavors of a great bivalve. They wallow in a tomato broth that seems vague in every respect. Salt and sugary notes dominate the watery sauce while tomatoes and herbs and anything else cooked into the mix disappear into an unrecognizable, um, flavor. The house salad, insalada Tarantino, alternates bitter greens, sharp olives and sweet onions. On our first visit someone in the kitchen cascaded a nice sweet-and-sour dressing over the dish, drowning everything. The next week a staff member more attuned to the whims of field greens tossed them lightly through the same vinegar-oil mix. In this guise the dressing stepped forward to perk things up and then receded into the distance. Perfect, in other words.

Which, of course, brings us to inconsistencies.

Now that's how you enjoy a good, cheap wine.
Tom Jenkins
Now that's how you enjoy a good, cheap wine.

Details

Caesar hummus $7

Spinach, artichoke and mushroom dip $8

Mussels $9

Insalada Tarantino $6

Spaghettini $9 (lunch)

Lasagna $9 (lunch)

Crab $24

Pork $23

Closed Location

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Service wavers between relatively competent and somewhat hesitant. On one visit we killed time for 20 minutes before our appetizer (the aforementioned hummus) arrived and waved our waitperson down several times before the "glass empty equals need to refill" equation sunk in. The very next week, things went smoothly. The restaurant seemed to be out of truly intriguing menu items, such as duck, each visit.

All in all, Tarantino's is a cool space occupied by a relic. There's nothing offensive here, and fans of Italian-American favorites will enjoy the respite. They serve pizza and pasta and the occasional special--something for everyone. But those seeking robust flavors or intricate recipes should avoid the place.

Or to put it another way, it's like a weathered Midwestern town: quaint, comfortable, interesting to ponder and somewhat lacking. Few people find such places worth the drive. 2708 Elm St., 214-651-0500. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; open for dinner 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday and 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. $$

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