Staying power creates enviable status with many enduring favorites

EATinton logo: Fred Kalil
Frederick Kalil reviews

Tryst has been ensconced in the center of town long enough that it might be beset with a resulting invisibility factor. In restaurant years, 19 is a venerable age. Its apparent staying power speaks to a status as trusted standby, at least, and somewhat more than that, a recent check-in proved.

In earlier times you might have found me here perched at the bar for a burger or shrimp tacos and a cocktail. Returning now, a glance at the menu gives a clue to the place’s longevity. A number of familiar items have survived since yesteryear, testimony to enduring favorites that continue to sustain the following of regulars.

There’s little mystery to the secret of success where elevated comfort food is involved. The difference here is a level of attention that aims above the pub-grub level, with the limited number of menu items honed to focus on the kitchen’s strengths. Executive chef Daniel DeCarpis’s stints at multiple spots in the North End is a cue to take note that pastas and breads are made in house.

Pizza, salads please the palate

Currently appearing ubiquitously on menus, flatbread pizza is an item to which I tend to give short shrift in apprehension of halfhearted efforts. So I was utterly unprepared for the excellence of a chicken sausage and artichoke rendition that defied expectations. None of the usual pitfalls compromised this one. A crust nicely charred retained its integrity under a payload of topping (“no soggy bottom”), and the luscious bed of Romano and leek sauce made no small contribution to a memorable impression.

I recalled the kale and brussels sprout Caesar salad from years past but was reminded anew of the satisfaction it delivers. Perfectly deployed lemon Parmesan dressing and garlicky croutons hit the right notes. A worthy choice, though the optional white anchovies delivered separately had seen better days. No reservations at all about the golden beet salad, an outright winner with its citrusy dressing and shards of tenderly crunchy seed brittle.

Magic at bottom of bowl

Regretfully eyeing a pork schnitzel resembling an aircraft carrier en route to a nearby table, I considered instead to get the salmon. I then had to wonder whether this variety of “safe” ordering is now treated by chefs in the same manner as chicken: an unavoidable menu necessity. When was the last time your salmon entrée left you feeling it was lavished with attention? Mine arrived with an undetectably caraway-glazed root vegetable medley (let’s retire that word). A swipe through the accompanying dill pickle crème fraîche offered what remedy was available, but the exercise failed to banish schnitzel regret.

Handmade ricotta ravioli served amid chunky tomatoes, basil chiffonade and a burrata topper supported an impression raised by the salmon that main dishes here should be best enjoyed assembled by the mouthful. This time the combined ingredients together amounted to deliciousness. No one can expect great tomatoes out of season, but it’s at the bottom of the bowl where magic is happening. The fresh flavors are intensified by a pistou that mixes with some exceptional olive oil, and the result is alchemy. I’ll consider this a helpful reminder not to pass judgment on a dish until its depths have been assiduously plumbed.

'Couldn't ask for better fries'

I can advise skipping the side of broccoli rabe unless you’re a fan of sweet pickled peppers, but the fries are all that and a bag of chips. (“Couldn’t ask for better fries.”) You needn’t hesitate to opt for the truffle edition if the fancy strikes.

A random Monday stop-in revealed a featured item available only that day of the week, a fried chicken sandwich on griddled brioche roll. It’s a big enough draw for habitués, we’re told, that it had to be reinstated to the menu following a period during which its absence was lamented. Generously packed and properly crispy, its crowd-pleasing popularity is a fait accompli. The special sauce referred to in the menu description is similar to thousand island dressing; no complaint on that score if only the amount weren’t negligible. Verdict: reputation well earned.

Bar program wins praise

What impressed me most about the bar program was the way wines are listed and described. Providing flavor notes and pairing suggestions allows for a degree of diner confidence in making a choice, sparing servers from bearing the full weight of responsibility. Plus the wine selection on the printed menu comprises Italian wines exclusively, so they’re well matched to what’s coming out of the kitchen.

I shouldn’t fail to mention that the room is inviting and that you can hear each other speak.

Tryst

689 Mass. Ave., Arlington, MA 02476

781-641-2227

 Saturday: 5 to 9 p.m.

Sunday: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.

Monday through Friday: 5 to 9 p.m.

The website gives details of special workshops in mid-December on creating gingerbread houses, on two dates only, by prepaid prereservation. 


Sept. 25, 2023: No empty tables for flavor-stuffed Mexican menu
  

This restaurant review of Tryst by YourArlington freelancer Frederick Kalil was published Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.

A resident of Arlington, Kalil has been eating food since birth. Starting from a home in which family cuisine ranged from kibbeh to cretons, he has sought high standards and a world of flavor at his own table and when dining out. After years of writing about dining options for the neighboring Tufts community, he now explores local kitchens for his fellow Arlingtonians.