Dallas Italian restaurant old-timer turns back the clock in Expo Park

It turns out you can turn back the clock: Tarantino’s, a swanky Italian restaurant and bar that was the toast of its time in the late ’90s, is coming back, and to its exact same location in Exposition Park.

The restaurant will open in winter 2019 at 3611 Parry Ave., in the space that was most recently Expo Bar, but was previously home to Meridian Room and before that, the cool hipster State Bar.

This time around, Tarantino’s has subtitles: Cicchetti Bar & Record Lounge, reflecting the vinyl hobby of founder-owner Peter Tarantino, who says that it will incorporate not only a restaurant and bar but also a vinyl repository.

If that sounds like a lot, it’s just prototypical Peter Tarantino, artiste, raconteur, and restaurateur, who’s excited about the opportunity to re-ignite his restaurant in the very same space.

“I’m pinching myself,” Tarantino says. “It’s 22 years since we opened Tarantino’s in September 1997. It was a lot of fun. We were the hottest restaurant in town for a year.”

He later relocated Tarantino’s to Deep Ellum, but it was just as the neighborhood and the economy were fading, and he shut it down.

In the interim, he’s surfaced at Angry Dwarf Saloon, also in Expo Park, now closed; Eight Bells Alehouse; Cock & Bull in Lakewood; and Craft & Growler, where he helped new owner Todd Quigley launch food at the onetime beer-only haunt.

He’d harbored a fantasy about re-opening Tarantino’s, and even looked at the space in 2015. But the building had not been maintained, and Tarantino couldn’t afford the necessary updates.

Enter Expo Bar, a well-intentioned bar-restaurant opened by former Lakewood Theater manager Wayne Roden in 2015; he redid the plumbing, grease trap, all those unsexy things that bring a building to code.

When Expo Bar closed in January, Tarantino got a second shot.

His concept will have a restaurant, full bar, and a little station dedicated to vinyl records.

“We’re calling it ‘Cicchetti Bar & Record Lounge’ — cicchetti being small snacks, and Record Lounge, I’m a vinyl collector since I was a child, and my cousin who is a partner is a vinyl head, as well,” he says. “There’ll be a bar and lounge with a vinyl station up front. The dining room will be in back, towards the kitchen.”

Tarantino calls the menu “Italian tapas,” but with pastas and main menu items, too.

“We are going to be simple with the food,” he says. “We’ll do some paninis, pastas, a lot of snacks and small plates, some fresh vegetables of the day.”

He’s thinking stuffed artichoke, shrimp bisque, lasagna, shrimp scampi, and steamed mussels with shrimp in a seafood saffron broth. Bucatini with puttanesca sauce, 3-bean ditalini soup (ditalini being the small tube-shaped pasta).

He’s thinking classic Sunday gravy with Peter’s famous meatballs; and tri-color stuffed pasta shells with pesto, red sauce, and pistachio gorgonzola cream sauce.

These are dishes sufficiently robust and tempting that you don’t need to know Tarantino’s history. It’s homey Italian cooking that he’s been doing most of his life. Enough to draw a contingent of Dallas diners ready to turn back the clock themselves.

After some cosmetic fixes including replacing the bar, he hopes to open sometime in December or January.

“The area has grown and it has great tenants, but without the problems other areas are having right now,” he says. “I love this space, and the neighborhood really is special.”