Jean-Francois Poujol knows a thing or two about opening a restaurant. The lifelong restaurateur behind the shuttered Soleil Bistro and Wine Bar and downtown’s Le Midi (now Toscana Ristorante), and until recently Tost Bistro (he’s now a consultant for the restaurant), is trying his hand at Tribeca di Olmos, a farm-to-table concept offering what he describes as Italian/Texan fare.
Located in what some might consider a cursed, but lovely, building, Tribeca is the latest in a string of eateries to occupy 4331 McCullough. First came Valentino’s after the building’s completion in 2008; it was followed by Olmos Park Bistro, owned by chef Laurent Rea of L’Etoile fame with partners Patrick Lanchais, and Michael Burkle; then came the Etcetera’s brief and lackluster stint; and finally A Tempo, a locavore’s short-lived dream.
The enormity of Tribeca warrants attention to detail; powering and staffing a 5,000 square-foot restaurant with a seating capacity of more than 200 takes work. Try as he might, Poujol and chef de cuisine Zack McKinney might need more hands on deck for Tribeca to stick (please stick, this Olmos Park-adjacent resident needs more places to chow down).
But aside from the pressing staffing concerns, the food at Tribeca has potential to please just about any palate with its use of locally sourced ingredients at affordable prices. The lunch menu offers lighter fare like salads, made with greens sourced from Bluebonnet Hydroponic Farms with the option to add chicken, Spanish anchovies, or the fish of the day for a small fee.
Those wanting to enjoy a mid-day carb-loading party can choose between the crowd-pleasing house-made Italian sausage pizza with roasted red peppers and fresh oregano on hand-tossed (also house-made) dough, or the pesto pasta with chicken, a simple, but craftily executed dish of tender, perfectly grilled chicken over soft, pillowy gnocchi, wild mushrooms, and spinach pesto.
An unfortunate misstep came from the pork belly carbonara, a dish I’d hoped would be as comforting as the description for it was enticing. What should have been a creamy bowl of cheese and crisp pork belly turned out to be a soupy debacle where the grilled leeks and poached farm egg became the highlight. Perhaps the use of a thicker and slightly undercooked fettuccini was to blame?
The Romantic-style edifice, with its themed rooms named after places in France such as Alsace and the Riviera (nameplates from previous restaurant incarnations), is perhaps better suited for cozy dinners. Again, front of the house help is needed (and currently sought-after if we are to believe Tribeca’s recent Facebook post); our party of two wasn’t greeted until five minutest after we’d arrived. It’s not a quality problem, as much as it is quantity, and at six weeks in, Tribeca should be staffed appropriately for a Tuesday evening.
Having said that, dinner was quaint and what you’d imagine from a neighborhood — slightly upscale, but mostly affordable — establishment. Three welcome entrees distinguish the dinner menu from the lunch menu. We followed the example of most parties around us and ordered the calamari with fresh pomodoro sauce. Flash fried just a bit longer than I’d prefer, the calamari was crunchy and light and with a drizzle of citrus beurre blanc.
McKinney is taking chances when it comes to the dinner entrees and I hope they start paying off soon. The grilled hangar steak with roasted oyster mushrooms, cornmeal-crusted zucchini fries, and swirl of wild arugula chimichurri had its hits and misses. The chimichurri stole the show, but didn’t make up for poorly seasoned fries — a sprinkle of kosher or sea salt might have done the trick. The mushrooms added another level of meatiness to the dish, but it wasn’t necessarily called for, there was, after all, a perfectly cooked slab of meat under them. In any case, the dish paired well with the house red, an Australian blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The sweet tooth-afflicted can rejoice at the classic tiramisu, and while the dreamy Poteet-strawberry and ricotta-filled cannoli are to be tried, be prepared for a bizarre presentation.
While Tribeca and co. have a few apron wrinkles to iron out, this might be the best shot the location has to stay operational as a restaurant. If Poujol’s vision for a family-friendly place with a beefed-up happy hour (look for that in August) comes to fruition, Tribeca di Olmos could be the casually elegant dining experience Olmos Park needs.
Tribeca di Olmos
Best Bets calamari, pesto pasta with chicken, house-made Italian sausage pizza
Hours 11:30 am-10 pm Tuesday-Friday; 4-10 pm Saturday; 11 am-3 pm Sunday Prices $6-$18
The Skinny Texan ingredients meet Italian favorites in a stellar, yet cursed, location.