969 North Collier Boulevard, Marco
The evolution of a young woman who thought she was a restaurateur but found she could learn to love being a chef in the kitchen.
Tara in Ireland was once the ancient seat of powerful kings. Tara in Marco Island is the trend-setting Tara Steak and Lobster House where anyone can sit and enjoy a fine steak or seafood dinner any evening of the week.
“My name is on the wall, that means I get to do all the jobs,” Chef Tara Trevethan said, noting that now she’s usually at the restaurant six days a week to receive and inspect wholesale deliveries: “For our seafood — we need those frequent deliveries because we don’t freeze anything — even the meats are delivered five days a week.”
Trevethan explained that the restaurant used to be closed Sunday before season, but on Dec. 30 they re-opened as a seven-day restaurant with live entertainment on Friday and Saturday. Tara Steak and Lobster House is located at 959 N. Collier Blvd., in the Royal Palm Mall, with outdoor dining on the patio — weather permitting. Phone: 394-0212.
“The fun part — the kitchen — is the heart of Tara. No matter how elegant and stylish the front of the house, you always have to be on top of everything in the kitchen,” she stated firmly, adding that she was groomed to be the chief operations officer and general manager. “Then I stumbled into the kitchen — I was almost pushed actually because my father believed that everyone in the family should know all the aspects of the business.”
Actually, the Junoesque young woman does possess those smarts — she graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a major in hotel and restaurant management and a minor in small business management.
“I consider myself a restaurateur but the cooking end was introduced to me by my mother. When we opened the restaurant (Andre’s Steak House) here in 1997,” Trevethan related. “My father wanted nothing to do with the back of the house — he was very charismatic with the customers. My mother, Jeannie, he gave her the position to develop the recipes and create our menu. When my father passed away it became Tara Steak and Lobster House.”
Love of good food runs in the family and is an important part of Chef/Restaurateur Trevethan’s Italian heritage. Her grandfather came from Italy to Ellis Island in 1928, and carried his knowledge and affection for Italian rustic food preparation and cooking with him to New Jersey where he settled and where Jeannie was raised.
“He had the string of red peppers hanging in his kitchen and made pasta in the winter and dandelion wine in the summer — all those things they do in the Old Country he brought with him and that love of food rubbed off on my mother,” Trevethan said. She was born and raised in New Jersey where there were all those ethnicities, she added, and by the time her mother was 10 or 11 she started helping in the kitchen. “My grandparents had those Sunday dinner where all the relatives come out of the woodwork.”
When Chef/restaurateur Trevethan is in the kitchen she claims, “I’m the launching pad — the taste tester of everything we do in the kitchen. When we develop a recipe and think it’s complete — oh yes, before the new cream corn side dish went on the menu, also the Au Poivre Sauce and a Merlot Sauce for the steak — all these were introduced as a sample, an amuse-bouche (a small bite before the meal), given to the customers.”
Do those items first offered as specials ever find their way on the permanent menu?
“We have our core and we expand on that,” she said with a tinge of asperity. “I’m not here to please everyone. We know what we’re good at and we stick to that.”
What about an alternate route ... “Organic?” Tara answered. “Maybe down the line, however, none of our seafood is farm-raised and we use free-range chicken. There’s a big difference in the color, texture and taste.”
She then added giggling, “It’s like the one between the pies made with real Key limes and that unnaturally green kind.”
What about the “very efficient gentleman” doing things around the restaurant and who seem to have an air of importance about him? Tara really laughed out loud this time!
“There’s a joke here in the restaurant when people ask me if we’re married. I tell them he’s my business husband here and his wife appreciates him at home,” she explained. “Actually, his name is Marco Porto, and he’s the restaurant manager and sommelier responsible for us achieving your Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence four years in a row!” The restaurant’s wine cellar is comprised of 300 labels representing several hundreds of bottles from gold-medal class vintners here and abroad.
“We’re constantly keeping up with the trends — we added a bone-in rib eye steak and also a bone-in filet. Now we’re working on incorporating Ahi tuna into our menu,” she said and chuckled. “It was really interesting the other day. The three of us, Marco, my mother and I were in the kitchen with a whole Ahi tuna loin and a filet we wanted to portion and cut into steaks. That wasn’t the funny part — it was the recipe for the wasabi drizzle going on the seared black and white sesame seed-encrusted tuna appetizer!” They were trying to determine the best ratio of wasabi to liquid, she explained.
“We tried sour cream, then half and half — whatever — and adding more wasabi burned my mouth so much that I could only taste the sour cream. That wasn’t so funny!”
Trevethan said that she’s also working on a recipe for high-end macaroni and cheese using fancy pasta: “You know, the kind...” she said, fluttering her fingers in the semblance of a butterfly.
“Yes! [she answered to the “Farballe?” suggestion] That’s it! With gruyere and some other kind of cheese and we’re still developing it — that’s the fun part,” she said. “Yet, I always remember we are only as good as the last meal we serve!”