When we hear about new restaurants, we get excited. When we hear about new Latin restaurants, like Tierra in Old Town Hall in Westport, we get really excited. Tierra (which opened in mid-June) is a bit hard to find at first, located to the right side of Spruce at 90 Post Road, close by Urban Outfitters, and by the parking lot off of Jesup Road.
Like good ‘ole Americans, we went there with our friend Christine on the Fourth of July (woo hoo South ‘Murica). Looking around, the bar to the left was warm, classic, and comfy with a huge loungy couch behind it. In the back there’s a private room with a nice wine rack wall and a fancy, shimmering chandelier. The main dining room features the same kind of vibe with a few tables and a side area with a view of the open kitchen.
Speaking of the kitchen, a husband and wife team run the kitchen and own it along with Chad Whited (and Laura Luce) who was there that night to help out. We first met CIA grad Chef Sue Torres, who is half Italian and Puerto Rican. She’s had an amazing amount of experience with Nuevo Mexicano fare including working at her own Suenos, Arizona 206, Rocking Horse Cafe, and Hell’s Kitchen. We met her during our dinner as she went around from table to table to see how everyone was enjoying the food. Next was chef Darren Carbone, who comes from Columbia with an Italian-American upbringing. His impressive resume includes a CIA degree like his wife, and heading the kitchens at Super Linda, Rosa Mexicano, La Verdad, El Vez, and Alma de Cuba. Ok, ok, you’re probably getting anxious to know about the food, so vamos, vamos.
The strategy this time was just to eat as much as we could. Wait? When is that never NOT our strategy?! Our server, who used to work at Valencia and recognized Kristien as a regular, was a hardcore closer, convincing us to try everything! As we decided on our drinks, she sold us on the guacamole. It arrived with thick cut house-made tortilla chips that were crispy and delicious, as well as a couple of house-made soft Chipotle tortillas that were quite tasty. The guac itself was creamy, yet chunky with tomato, onions, Serrano pepper, and nice hints of cilantro and lime.
We were also treated to their cornbread that is served with a black bean, corn, cucumber, and cilantro salsa that’s topped with sour cream. The cornbread is served in little slivers and doesn’t taste like any other cornbread you’ve had before. It is more bread-y than cake-y and has a fantastic honey taste. These were good enough by themselves, but the addition of the smoky black beans added a great contrast to the semi-sweetness of the cornbread.
Soon after our drinks arrived. Over the course of our meal we tried the Spicy Paloma, (Blanco tequila with grapefruit and lime juice, which can also be ordered without the kick), The Lock Up (house infused strawberry tequila, lemon juice, and sparking Cava), and the Tierra Margarita. We thought all the drinks were well balanced and were very refreshing. Nothing too crazy or complex, but just enough to complement the food nicely. Dan’s drink, the Meco Old Fashioned, was by far the strongest and was definitely a whiskey lover’s drink. That distinct flavor of Rye Whiskey and bitters came bursting through with the slight spice and smokiness from the Meco pepper (a variety of Chipotle) and a light citrusy flavor from the orange and lemon.
Ok, back to the food…
Lobster Ceviche: There’s always a seasonal ceviche on the menu and on the 4th it happened to contain poached lobster. (SCORE!) Along with the king of seafood was watermelon, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, cut corn, onions, Serrano pepper, and lime. We loved the texture contrast with the crunchy cucumber and corn cut right from the cob. The watermelon and corn added a slight sweetness, while the tomatoes and lime served as a good acid base. This all combined to create a good ceviche with lobster meat that was prepared just right. Our only issue of the night was that they were a bit heavy-handed with the salt on this dish.
Lamb Arepas: Served with avocado, almond, and a tomato ginger jam on the side. Kristien really enjoyed this dish. The lamb was delicately cooked, like a pulled pork that had been cooking for days. The little over easy eggs added a nice creaminess, and the arepa itself was just the right size…not too thick and not too overpowering. And that tomato ginger jam? Ahhh, the perfect balance to the hearty lamb.
Mesclun Salad: Calabras cheese, hazelnut, red onion, pickled tomatillo, local maple-glazed bacon. Christine was in heaven with this complex dish. There were so many flavors and textures going on here, it was like a fiesta in your mouth. The delicious, crunchy hazelnut brought a nice crunch, the bacon a nice fatty, smokiness, and the tomatillo a contrasting tartness and citrus flavor. A very fun salad!
Chicken Chilaquiles: Now, whenever we see these on the menu, we order them. Under suggestion from our server, we ordered this with an ooey, gooey egg that was set atop the dish beautifully. The tortilla noodles on the bottom held together nicely and weren’t soggy in the bright (and slightly spicy) salsa verde sauce with a forward taste of cilantro. The chicken was nice and juicy, adding a nice contrast to the rest of the dish. And, adding a little more flavor to the dish were crispy onions that were crunchy and brought out an earthiness.
Pan Seared Scallops: Red Fresno Chile Relleno, avocado-tomatillo salsa. The slightly spicy sauce was bright, serving as a nice contrast to the scallop, which was cooked perfectly. The delicately roasted chile relleno was deconstructed with the corn stuffing on the outside…which allowed them to pack more of this deliciousness in. Yum yum!
Carnitas: This was one of the best pork dishes that we’ve had at a Latino restaurant! Our favorite of the night, too! The pork was charred and crispy on the outside, yet remained juicy and delicate on the inside (which is not easy to do). Along with the carnitas was a side of flavorful Arroz Morro and two tortillas for wrapping. We’d get this dish again and again and again.
Grilled Hanger Steak: The steak was prepared with a chile pequin aioli, and an AMAZING passion fruit and Rocoto (a hot pepper) sauce. The steak was so tender, cooked perfectly, charred on the outside, and pink on the inside. That sauce, oh that sauce, was tart, tangy, and spicy…an excellent balance to the heavy steak. And the Peruvian potato and poblano salad served on the side was also fantastic. A nice, modern twist to potato salad.
And, if you can frickin’ believe it (if you’ve been following us you can easily believe that), we actually also had dessert…
It should be noted that Michelle’s Pies are on the menu, and apparently might collaborate for a special pie which would be cool. Our awesome waitress, however, sold us on their very own Key Lime Pie, which has Serrano crusted pistachio crust to give the silky, bright pie a nice, subtly spicy, twist. We loved it. And, we also ordered the Tres Leches, which was moist, and not at all mushy like they can sometimes be. The strawberry rhubarb compote was a nice balance and the dish overall was not too sweet, which Kristien and Christine particularly loved. One of the best they proclaimed.
For a restaurant that has only been open for a few weeks, Tierra definitely was knocking it out of the park in the kitchen. Like we said, we only had one issue with a dish. Everything else that we had was cooked well and put together nicely. At times service was slow, but there are a few things to remember. When we visited they had only been opened for a bit, but also it was 4th of July so there weren’t as many people available. To remedy that, Chad had come down to help manage, organize, and make the night go by smoothly. Even on the 4th the place became packed, so we’ve got to imagine that this is going to become one of the hottest spots in Westport. When compared to other restaurants, Tierra definitely stands out and rightfully so.
So, we’d have to agree with Chef Carbone when he refers to Tierra as Latin Root cooking. Both chefs get down to what Mexican and South American cooking is all about, heighten the flavors, and definitely throw in their own twists. And, if we haven’t sold you on this new spot in Westport yet, let us mention one more word: brunch. Check that out from 10:30-2:30 on Saturdays and Sundays.
Definitely put Tierra on your list and maybe we’ll see you there because we plan to come back way too many times.
Noms: 4 (though when we come back we feel that this score will increase!)
Address: 90 Post Road
Phone: (203) 557-4850