Ebb Tide Seafood in Port Chester is now a memory, replaced by the stylish and new, bartaco.
Not since innocent, virginal Sandra Dee was made over into leather-clad, sexy Sandy in “Grease” has a transformation been quite so dramatic. Okay, that’s hyperbole, but still, the space looks radically different, with only the large deck as a reminder of what was there before. It’s goodbye bait shop, and hello sleek, airy dining room.
Some friends and I met at bartaco the other night for dinner and drinks. Upon entering the restaurant, what’s immediately striking is the bar. It’s large, attractive, constructed of wood and set aglow with candles and hanging basket lanterns. It dominates the room; there are tables and couches ringed around it, but the bar is the visual focal point.
To the left of the bar is a separate dining area, and that’s where we were seated. Might have been more fun to be in the main room where all the action was, but it worked out fine.
About the food and drink, the restaurant’s name spells out the essential concept: “bartaco.” From the bar, we ordered cocktails and margaritas. I got my margaritas with salt and they were great — strong and tart with freshly squeezed lime juice.
The menu is divided into two main categories: “Tacos” and “Not Tacos.” Pretty clear.
As there were six of us, we decided to individually order a round of tacos and share several “not tacos” tapas-style. Ordering is done on a card, where you check off the dishes you want and hand it to the server.
Drinks were flowing and the conversation was animated, but I did my best to keep track of what was what.
Our “not tacos” included these fresh corn tortilla chips and guacamole.
And soft, pork tamales.
We shared a refreshing shrimp ceviche (not pictured) and these cheese arepas.
Cheese arepas are fine, but I find meat and vegetable-filled to be more interesting. I hope bartaco adds a few arepa variations to the menu, because a filled arepa is truly delicious.
At one point we noticed a pair of chopsticks sitting on the table, but none of us knew where they had come from. We joked that the restaurant had provided chopsticks for the two Asians at the table to make us feel more comfortable. Turns out they were for the shrimp ceviche. Who knew.
For tacos, we ordered a wide assortment: chorizo, chicken al pastor, baja fish, Thai shrimp, pork chile verde, chicken liver, portobello, and I think someone may have ordered tongue? I’m disappointed that I missed veal cheek on the menu, because I have a feeling those would have been tasty.
Word of note: the tacos are smallish, so keep that in mind when ordering. One person can eat 3-4 tacos without a problem.
All of the tacos were very good (except for one, which I’ll explain in a moment). My favorites were the fish and the chorizo, which was spicy and well seasoned. Lots of crunchy herbs and veggies inside each taco, giving it a texture contrast with the warm, soft tortilla. And three sauces set on the table (hot, chile verde, sweet and sour) add a nice dash of flavor to each taco, if you so choose.
Now for the not so good (and keep in mind this probably has nothing to do with bartaco and everything to do with my personal tastes). I’ve learned in the past year that I really don’t enjoy foie gras, and I can add another item to the list: chicken liver. Took a bite of my friend Mindy’s chicken liver taco, and HELLO… strong stuff. The aftertaste lingered in my mouth for several minutes, even after I tried to wash it away with margaritas and other food. I guess chicken liver’s not my thing. But again, that’s me. If you’re a fan, this may be right up your alley. Although Mindy did say that the liver tasted “off,” and she likes liver, so we’ll have to take her word for it.
For dessert, churros — whose mouth-watering cinnamon-y aroma had been wafting through the dining room earlier in the night — and chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The vanilla ice cream had flecks of coconut in it, and the fried churros were warm and soft on the inside. Mmm.
Fun night all around. Nothing mind-blowing about the food, but it’s well done, and I’m sure will only improve with time. bartaco’s a destination perfectly suited for a large group or a date, and with that waterfront deck, it’ll be particularly hopping during the summer.
Finally, I’ve written in the past that tapas-style dining is deceiving; it never seems as though you’re eating that much food, but then you get the bill, and there’s a certain sticker shock. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when the bartaco bill arrived, because it was much more reasonable than expected, even with drinks added in. The perks of sharing dishes among six people.
Of course, there’s the other downside of tapas-style: about 45 minutes after I got home, I was hungry again.
Final note: A friend of mine had dinner at bartaco tonight and texted me that the wait for food was over an hour. But because of that, they were only charged for drinks. Pretty cool on bartaco’s part to take care of the situation.
1 Willett Ave.
Port Chester, NY