Raising the Bar (Menu) at Tallent

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I’ve
found the perfect food. It is elemental and primal –- so soulful, so creamy, so
sweet and pure, that the first time I tasted it I cried. I know it’s only a pot
of curdled milk when all is said and done — but the baked ricotta on the Bar
Menu at Restaurant Tallent is much more than the sum of its very simple parts.

I
have been waiting for this new bar menu at Tallent for weeks, as antsy as a
little kid on a long car trip asking “Are we there yet? Are we almost there?” I am happy to tell you that as of this
weekend, it looks like we are there!

I’ve
probably made it pretty clear that I think Restaurant Tallent here in
Bloomington is the cat’s meow, and not just because I have come to be very fond
of the two young people who own it. Dave
Tallent is not only skilled and creative but he and Krissy work their butts off
to produce a superior product. Their
commitment to sourcing their food locally means that they start with fine and
tasty ingredients, and what they do to those ingredients is superb.

Dave
lets food be food — he doesn’t dabble in molecular gastronomy or anything
cutting edge. I am pretty sure that in
his dreams he’d be frying chicken and cooking greens, but that’s for another
day. Meanwhile Tallent is a lovely and
elegant fine dining place in a town that is increasingly becoming a dining
destination in Indiana. 

Still,
you can’t eat rich multi-course meals everyday – I can’t anyway, my waistline
is already showing the deleterious consequences of five years of food writing.  Hence my anxious wait for the bar menu, for
times when I would like a hit of Dave’s cooking without the formality of white
tablecloths and the full meal, full tummy deal.

Luckily
for me, I was at Tallent doing a photo shoot on Friday, the day before the bar
menu launched, while Dave and the guys in the kitchen were working out the
kinks. When Jerry joined me for dinner,
we got to be guinea pigs (pigs being the operative word, I am afraid.)

I
was perched at the bar, editing photos on my laptop, when the first installment
arrived – an assortment of seasonal dips and spreads with some crunchy, buttery
baguette toasts. The current selection includes an explosively delicious
caponata, a pungent tapenade, a fragrant and dreamy white bean truffle spread,
a spicy romesco, and a tiny pot of duck liver pate -– rich and savory
and perfectly accented with Dave’s pickled ramps. You can order just one or two (at $3 apiece)
or all five (for $13). We polished off the five, of course, scraping every last
bit from the dishes.

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Next
up was that baked ricotta. Fresh whole milk, house-made cheese, grilled
ciabatta.  I may have mentioned that I
thought it was pretty good. Ten bucks
for a small pot of heaven.

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Then
we went from the sublime to the more mundane — chips and dip, to be precise. But oh, what chips and oh, what dip! Fresh
waffle-cut potato chips with black truffle dip, creamy and tangy. (Bet you can’t eat just one. We
couldn’t, anyway.)

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Frankly,
by now we were stuffed, and we’d already eaten more than we would for a normal,
bar menu dinner. But there are also some
more substantial choices on the menu, and it looked like we were going to be trying
a couple of those too. Like a warm and
wonderful casserole of the house orecchiette with a long-simmered pork ragu and
fresh house-made mozzarella. Dave’s meat
sauce has to be tasted to be believed – it’s magnificent. And the little pockets of mozzarella – sweet
and stretchy and creamy. Wow.

Equally
wow — a roasted vegetable salad of grilled corn and eggplant and squash and
cabbage, all bathed in a cilantro lime vinaigrette. Dave made this for me once before and I
blogged it here – it is one of my favorite summer meals. This version had goat cheese for a creamy
touch, but I believe I prefer it with the sharp tang of lime, cilantro and
garlic.

It’s hard to believe, but there’s some stuff we didn’t try — Dave’s amazing
moules frites are on the menu, as is a grilled herb crusted tuna, a tasting
plate of country hams, and an artisan cheese plate that I know I will love as I
always love cheese at Tallent. But after
sampling everything else I fell off the barstool and had to go home and sleep
it off. Been a long time since I’ve done
that, but this time it was worth it.

There
are only ten seats at the Bar at Restaurant Tallent (and this menu is not
available in the restaurant) but if you are lucky enough to nab one of them,
you are in for a treat. Lighter snacks
are from $3.00 to $10.00; more substantial plates are $11.00-$15.00. Try not to order everything at once.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Ronnie says:

    I want to go to Tallent-NOW!! Evan and I have been in culinary heaven we dined at Tallent a few months ago and experienced the chef’s menu. I can’t wait to have a good hang at the bar and taste it all. See you in Bloomington soon.

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  2. Cynthia says:

    Isn’t it fantastic to have a place like this to go to where the food is simple, homey yet elegant?

    Like

  3. Your write-ups on Tallent have made it one of my favorite restaurants, and I’ve never even eaten there! Looks like a trip to Bloomington is in order.

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  4. You bet, Ronnie. When?
    Yes, indeed it is, Cynthia.
    Tell you what, Lisa — you come on out to Bloomington and dinner’s on me.

    Like

  5. Larry says:

    Hi, Christine,
    Forgot to tell you I made the scallops with potatoes anna from Tallent (via your cookbook). We rate recipes on a 1-10 scale and it was a 9.8, not bad. Now the question is – will you offer me the same deal you offered Lisa?? And if so, do we get the bar menu or the restaurant menu?? You could have lotsa visitors, you know!!

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  6. Oooh, do you think you could get me a seat? You’re making me want to fly over right now.

    Like

  7. b. cheng says:

    as an IU alum (a poli sci major) one of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t find Tallent until my final year at IU. I would tell friends that this place was probably the best restaurant in the state and most would not believe me until a visit. This new bar menu is amazing and makes me want to return to Btown, what the Tallents are doing is truly wonderful, this place is a treasure! Thanks for the pictures!

    Like

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