When we first came to the Tri-cities 5 years ago, it was essentially a fine dining wasteland. Little rose above the level of extreme blandness until the short-lived Sundance Grill moved to Columbia Point. This whole situation always seemed somewhat anomalous given the high proportion of professionals associated with PNNL, Hanford and other local industries, and the growing influence of the wine industry. It had to change.
And it did. Life on the food front has improved dramatically since, and in many aspects Taverna Tagaris is leading the way. Situated next to the established Bookwalter and Barnard Griffin tasting rooms, Tagaris has built an impressive Greek-inspired restaurant, bar and outdoor patio for casual summer evenings.
As soon as your enter through the huge, brass-looking doors you know you’re in an atypical Tri-cities dining establishment. An elegant stone and dark-wood structure with soaring ceilings, is filled with – and this will seem surprising to non-locals – table and chairs! Stylish and comfortable ones too. Short and tall ones, some overlooking the kitchen. Not the seating booths which dominate other local restaurants, but real, comfortable and flexible seating. Just like a real restaurant. Not a Dennys.
Even better, Tagaris has other characteristics found in real restaurants. The service is efficient and unobtrusive, and the menu reasonably imaginative. There are several tempting tapas-style small plates, including a meze plate with Greek bread, patatas bravas, several salads and sauteed spicy shrimps. These selections are excellent to share between a group, and nibble while everyone selects the main event.
"Large plates" include a seasonal seafood, a range of meaty cuts and a couple of vegetarian options like a curried vegetable tagine (untasted so far, but not for long!). There’s also three "crisp flatbreads", and the one topped with shrimp and chorizo proved particularly satisfying recently.
I’ve eaten at the restaurant 5 or so times now, and twice recently. At times the food has been quite excellent. A generous chunk of oven roasted halibut was succulent and well matched with an olive tapanade and polenta cake. A ribeye steak was gently cooked to the promised medium-rare, a pasta comprised juicy grilled shrimp delicately balanced in a light creamy sauce, and a paella was Barcelona-like in quality.
At other times the food has been so-so. Most notably was the Copper River salmon which was taken from too-close to the fish’s tail, a place where poorer quality flesh is found. It was edible in a rubbery kind of way, but only just. If I hadn’t been in a business meeting of some import, I’d have sent it back. Other offerings have been variable – once the patatas bravas were small authentic tasting had chopped cubes, next they were like mass-produced frozen potato wedges.
Also rather oddly, given that Tagaris is a winery, the wine is pretty average. They have a decent selection of well-priced, drinkable if uninspiring house made wines, and some reserves that are better but becoming expensive and hence of questionable value. I wish they’d either make some wine worthy of accompanying their food, or add other local options to the list. This is why we typically skip dessert, and walk over to Bookwalter for a fine bottle of cabernet and their artisan cheese selections. But that’s another story.
Still, Tagaris has elevated the local dining scene considerably, and hence the upsides greatly outweigh the inconsistency. It’s like big city dining has finally arrived here. I hope it’s the vanguard for more to follow.