The Marlborough Tavern
The Marlborough Tavern wants to have the best of both worlds: a comfortable family setting with the first-rate cuisine. They succeed with the atmosphere but have mixed results with the food.
The tavern is a landmark historic building. Inside there are rough-hewn exposed beams on the ceiling, wide old weathered floorboards and ample touches of old New England charm. There is also a more casual “tap room” with TVs, louder music and a bar where one can order burgers, sandwiches and bar food. Lisa and I sat in the dim and sedate “Andrew Jackson Room,” a section of the restaurants Rancho Mirage named in honor of one of the numerous 19th-century notables who visited the tavern. The floor slanted severely toward the ancient fireplace. With a kind of easy listening version of “Amazing Grace” playing on the sound system, I thought we might be sitting in on a Ken Burns documentary.
While it could have been some period detail, our table was unpleasantly sticky. We could have done without that level of historical accuracy. There was a blackened salmon special and a turkey and lentil soup of the day. And the menu offers veal Oscar ($19.95), teriyaki chicken ($15.95), salmon Normande, baked scrod and sirloin steaks. A signature snack at the Tavern seems to be the chive-y cream cheese dip served with a mix of crackers.
So, the prices are not cheap at the Tavern, but the management may be, seeing as one has to pay extra to substitute an order of steamed vegetables for the standard sides of rice or baked potatoes. This seemed tacky when one is paying 20 bucks for an entree.
Though we had made our way through the crackers and dip, we ordered the lobster ravioli appetizer and a cup of the turkey and lentil soup. The ravioli had a lemon sauce that was a bit too lemony, and the gummy pasta overpowered the lobster. The lentil soup was thick and tasty, sort of like a split-pea soup — more suitable for cooler weather, perhaps, but good all the same. The salads were routine but still fresh and crisp, and they perked up the palate.
Next came the main course. I tried the top sirloin served with stuffed mushrooms ($18.95), and Lisa ordered the stuffed sole ($19.95). A pleasing charred outer crust on the sirloin would have been improved if the meat had been better salted before hitting the fire. This would have brought out more flavor too. Rubbing in some coarse salt and pepper on a steak before grilling it is about the extent of the tricks one has — there’s fire, there’s meat and there’s salt. With respect to the fire, the sirloin was cooked right. Pinkish and juicy inside, seared outside. The stuffed mushrooms latched onto the smoky flavor of the ground sausage with which they were filled. In the meat and potatoes tradition, the steak came with a side of thick-cut and nicely browned French fries which didn’t suffer from soaking up some of the juices from the mushrooms and meat.
Lisa’s stuffed sole was plentiful, with three filets wrapped around the crab meat stuffing. It seemed like there was a reprise of the lemony sauce (or some variant of it) that had come with the lobster ravioli. It was clear Lisa wouldn’t finish this. And there was nothing about it that made her want to shoot for any feats of consumption. Crabmeat, fish, butter, and lemon should not be this unremarkable.
If Lisa wasn’t pushing herself to superhuman levels of access, I, at least, had goals to meet. So I ordered the last piece of the homemade pecan pie and a cup coffee. The coffee tasted like it had been on the burner too long. But the pie was probably the high point of the evening. It was powerfully sweet, nutty and warm, topped with whipped cream. I certainly would have accepted this pie if it were served naked.
On our visit, the food at the Marlborough Tavern didn’t live up to the promise of the high prices and the warm atmosphere.