I'll admit it: I've been avoiding going to Medici House ever since it opened in March of this year. I didn't want to go because I enjoyed its predecessor, Tantalus, so much. Medici House is operated in the same spot as Tantalus in East Aurora. Medici House is owned by the same people that owned Tantalus. It even looks incredibly similar to Tantalus inside and out. Given my love for Tantalus, and rumors I'd heard that it wasn't as good, served smaller portions and charged higher prices than Tantalus, I was reluctant to check it out.
Tantalus had it all, in my estimation, for a great, anytime restaurant. It wasn't overly fancy, but had great food at good prices, large, well priced wine & beer lists, and a cool laid back vibe that I always enjoyed. The pizza was always fantastic and my wife & I would get it most frequently at Tantalus. When the restaurant closed and I got word that they were rebranding themselves because the owners had grown bored with operating Tantalus, I was immediately skeptical. How could it be as good?
I lamented my favorite go-to restaurant for many months. My trip to Medici House was delayed by the bad reviews I'd heard from friends whom I trust. Small portions. High prices. Quality not as good. These things didn't make me rush to try Medici House.
After more than six months, we finally returned to the location that was Tantalus and is now Medici House this past weekend. All in all, it was a good experience.
The restaurant now specializes in Italian food, but there was so much hold over from the Tantalus menu, you felt like you could order many of your favorites. The menu, although I heard it was supposed to be pared down from the huge menu that Tantalus offered, was still enormous. It was filled mostly with dishes from the Tantalus menu, with several new dishes as well. It was certainly pasta and pizza-centric. I counted nearly 40 pasta dishes and over 20 pizza options. The wine list is still large and relatively well priced, but is now dominated by Italian wine. For me, as you know, this wasn't a problem. The Ripasso and Col di Sasso I had were enjoyable, and moderately priced at $6.75/glass.
While the menu was large when it was Tantalus, I somehow didn't have problems making a relatively quick decision. It was different at Medici House. I felt compelled review all the selections so I wouldn't miss anything. Since the pasta dishes were nearly identical to the Tantalus options, nothing seemed to interest me. Not to say they didn't look good, but if I wasn't going to try something new, I had to go with a better litmus test. Ultimately, I decided to go with some old favorites to truly be able to compare the two places.
I started with this:
This is a spinach salad made with, according to the menu, "baby spinach leaves, crumbled pancetta, croutons, accented with red onions, topped with Aged Parmesan, and warm bacon dressing." The salad was quite good, but not as good as the old spinach salad from Tantalus. While they claimed it had "crumbled pancetta", what topped the salad seemed very different. It appeared and tasted like torn prosciutto as opposed to the crispy, crumbled pancetta I was expecting. Now, if you know me, you know I love pork in any form. So that is a very minor complaint. The dressing was quite tasty with ample smoked crumbled bacon. The salad was certainly a success.
Then, to truly compare the two restaurants, I had to select pizza. Here's the pizza I chose:
This is the smoked "fungi" pizza. Let me start by saying that I'm not a diner that makes complaints at restaurants. I try not to come off like a food snob, but I was perturbed when I saw that the Italian word for mushrooms, funghi, was misspelled Listen, you call yourself an Italian restaurant and are named after the most powerful family in the history of Firenze (Florence), you've got to get the spelling right! But, I digress...
The pizzas are smaller than they were at Tantalus. The pizzas are now 14" and come out in a perfect circle. Tantalus pies were at least 16" in diameter and had a wonderful irregular shape. No two pizzas were alike. There were also each at least a $1.00 or more cheaper. You could also get half pizzas. None of this is true with Medici House. The dough on this pizza was good, although not as good as it was as Tantalus. I could have been confused and ordered the wrong dough: you now get to chose from "Neo-Neopolitan", "NY Style," or an 8" "Epicurean Flat". So, I will take some of the blame for that. The topping that was to contain "a trio of roasted mushrooms in garlic and olive oil (Oyster, Portobello, and Shitake), mozzarella, carmelized shallots and high-lighted with smoked gouda". The mushrooms were nice, but you didn't get much of the smoked gouda flavor. On top of that, it was bland and needed more seasoning. The winner is the Tantalus pizza, although this pizza was decent.
My wife went with one of the nightly specials:
House made lasagna with mushrooms and spinach. Although the dish arrived swimming in sauce, it was very good. The mushrooms and spinach were at the forefront and were nicely balanced by ricotta and mozzarella cheese. She thoroughly enjoyed it.
With dined with some friends who also enjoyed their meals. The butternut squash ravioli with tarragon cream sauce were delicious. The vegetable pizza with goat cheese and asparagus they ordered was also a hit.
All in all, we had a relatively good meal. As you can tell, it is not as good as Tantalus. There truly were smaller portions and higher prices. But, the portions were not too small, nor were the prices too high to deter me from returning...eventually.
The long and short of it is I'm still lamenting one of my favorite restaurants. While Medici House is good, I won't be coming back on a regular basis. I enjoyed our meal and will probably be back to try something else at some point. I have heard that the owners are considering reverting the space back to Tantalus and I sure hope that happens.
On the bright side, we had a nice meal with some good friends. We followed it up with a trip down the street to a bar I've been meaning to get to for nearly as long as Medici House. Stay tuned later this week for details on that trip!
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