If you have any extended dining history in Dallas, there's a good chance you have been in the company of one or more Tarantino.
Chris, Patrick and Matthew Tarantino are all trained chefs who in the late 1990s and early 2000s were creating food in the kitchens of The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Beau Nash at the Hotel Crescent Court, the Green Room, TABC and several namesake Tarantino’s establishments in the Deep Ellum and Expo Park neighborhoods.
After a brief career in radio, brother Peter Tarantino worked the front of house in several of these establishments. In recent years, Peter has been in the kitchen, cheffing in bars, catering and working in private kitchens around the city.
As reported last year, Peter arranged to take over the very space on Parry Avenue across from Fair Park that in the late '90s was home to the original Tarantino’s. That eatery was a renowned dining destination created by Patrick and Peter, and it fell victim to the cycle of economic busts that are all too familiar.
Peter’s vision for the restaurant was to create a casual fine dining room with an accessible wine list and cicchetti-style menu (Italian small plates). Modifications to the space were underway when the coronavirus hit. Money got tight, renovations were halted, and Peter was forced to adapt his menu to be takeout-friendly, combining cicchetti-style items with Italian classics.
Cooking alone in the kitchen of the partially renovated room is the hand Peter had been dealt, but the food doesn't suffer for it. Every item I’ve tried has been rich in flavor, affordable, and it travelled well.
We sat down with Peter to talk Sicilian heritage, glories of past projects and what it’s like to keep the embers of his vision burning as he waits for the world to recover.
Dallas Observer: Your family has roots traced back to Italy and a shared love for cooking. Did you and your brothers grow up in the kitchen?
Peter Tarantino: The Giacone and Tarantino family roots trace back to Naples and Palermo, Sicily and emigration to New Orleans. My aunt and uncle ended up in Tampa. For years, they had a famous restaurant in the Hyde Park area of Tampa called Selina’s. They were my godparents — a big deal in a Catholic family. We’d visit them and have the classic extended-family cooking and eating experiences. That’s left a strong impression, and, in fact, my brothers all eventually went to culinary school.
DO: A year ago you and your financial partner had big plans for this space, and circumstances did not play out as expected. You find yourself here cooking in a compromised situation but cranking out excellent food. How did you pivot and land on your menu?
PT: I think when you find yourself in extraordinary circumstances and your very survival is at stake, it sharpens your senses. I learned years ago to manage the stress of this business so it wouldn’t kill me. We had settled on the cicchetti concept of snacks and small plates for this spot — which, by the way, was an important part of my brother Patrick’s menu in the original Tarantino’s here 24 years ago. Since then, cicchetti has become a trend in Europe, borrowed from tapas and pinchos in Spain. But I needed to make it practical for the situation created by the pandemic. Some of the items I had initially offered, such as scampi with saffron, that were hard to package without leaking were dropped, and some larger-plate, classic dishes [were] added: five-cheese lasagna, why not? Now [that] we have some outdoor seating and a couple tables inside, I can think about offering these again. And my sister, who is an excellent cook, comes in to make fresh ravioli and pasta and desserts.
DO: We had pork shank for take out that was dynamite.
PT: Yeah, that special with a chianti gravy on polenta is something I’ll be offering again this week.
DO: What is your philosophy for a wine program?
PT: We are trying to maintain a simple and affordable wine list that I consider to be serviceable. You’ll see it expanding soon, but remaining true to those goals.
DO: What is the vision for Taratino’s future?
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PT: My goal is [to keep] this place a fun, casual and comfortable place that has vinyl played in what I envisioned to be an old radio station-looking booth.
DO: So staying true to your roots and the neighborhood?
PT: Yes, but also looking to be able to service the patrons of the Music Hall [at Fair Park] when they return, with excellent food fast that lets them start their evening with a snack and drink, but gets them to the Ochre House Theater or Music Hall before the doors lock and the show starts.
Tarantino’s Cicchetti Bar & Record Lounge, 3611 Parry Ave. (South Dallas). 469-677-0085. Open for takeout and limited dine-in and patio seating 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.