There are plenty of compelling reasons to eat at O Lar, a modest Mediterranean-influenced restaurant in a residential neighborhood of Piermont, in Rockland County, N.Y. (The name means “hearth” or “home” in Galician.)
There are no views of the mighty Hudson, or of the glittering necklace that is the Tappan Zee Bridge, and you’ll have to sit cheek-by-jowl with other diners, but the dishes that emerge from O Lar’s wood-fired oven — bountiful pizzas, beautifully charred baby chicken with a brood of root vegetables, a warm chocolate cake cooled down with black-pepper gelato — are hearty, wholesome and spirited.
Alas, there are also a few reasons to hold a grudge, and it was surprising that a place that is doing so many things right would risk irking diners. O Lar’s cash-only policy, an inconvenient detail buried on the restaurant’s Facebook page, was neither cited when we made a reservation by phone nor printed on the menu. So you might learn of this as late as when you produce your credit card at meal’s end, and the nearest A.T.M. is a cold walk into town.
Further, the uninitiated might be surprised to find that a waiter’s offer to bring bread — flatbread toasts perfumed with oregano and encrusted with salt — is more than just a nice gesture; the asking price is $10. And last, after settling our $300 tab with $20 bills, we were asked in very plain language to give up our table. We were invited to move to the tiny bar, where there was not an inch of elbow room, and it was clear we’d be buying our own drinks. Getting the bum’s rush left a sour taste.
Pizza at O Lar is made in a 700-degree oven.Credit...Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times
Still, after two visits it was easy to see why the owner, Miguel Dominguez, and executive chef, James Corona, have a fan club. I would love to have a place with O Lar’s culinary aptitude close to home — and the restaurant indeed swarms with appreciative locals. They come for the brittle Spanish fries dusted with smoky paprika; warm marinated olives and caramelized cherry tomatoes in a pretty pottery bowl; puffy salt-cod croquettes dipped in piquant aioli; sizzling piquillo peppers soaked with Rioja and stuffed with crab meat and goat cheese; dates plumped with Gorgonzola dolce and swaddled in Serrano ham, strung on a skewer like so many Italian songbirds; fresh burrata draped with sardines and framed with jammy red peppers and see-through slices of prosciutto; and salt-roasted beets tucked under a tuft of super-fresh frisée.
They move on eagerly to hand-cut mint pappardelle with a rich lamb-shank ragout; melting short ribs swimming with creamy polenta; and broad bowls of paella Valenciana, the saffron-scented rice cooked just right and piled high with shellfish, calamari and chorizo. For dessert, they know just what to order: the smooth, speckled vanilla panna cotta and a caffè macchiato.
Ingredients are fussed over a bit but not fetishized (though O Lar posted a charming online tutorial on Meyer lemons). The restaurant boasts of a relationship with the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., whose produce is impeccable, and a local potter has crafted handsome plates and bowls to augment the pedestrian white ware.
The food wasn’t always perfect. Despite the 700-degree wood-fired oven, two pizzas were soggy at the center; grilled octopus had an acrid taste; and one night, the warm chocolate cake appeared to have exploded on the plate, making an unattractive mess. Further, the interior décor, as one guest noted, could use some sprucing up.
Just when we were getting over watching jealously as the patrons next to us devoured a “gift” from the kitchen — a special pizza bearing red grapes, walnuts, endive, honey and Gorgonzola (an appealing option that had not been offered to us) — the owner sang out to another group of regulars, saying, “Give me a minute, and I’ll let you know what we have for the customers tonight.” We’d had no such pampering, and could only hope that O Lar might conduct a quick self-assessment, and resolve to give special treatment to everyone in the future.
THE SPACE A simple storefront specializing in inspired Italian, Spanish and Basque food. The minimal décor includes English football flags (Chelsea, Manchester United) and a tourist poster of flamenco dancers. We counted 25 seats, plus five stools at the cramped bar. Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD Locals in hand-knit sweaters. Waiters are friendly, hardworking and mostly on top of things; regulars appear to get preferential treatment.
THE BAR A pitcher of sangria is $23. The wine list — short, astute and affordable — favors Spain.
THE BILL Cash only. Tapas and “little starters” are $6 to $14. Salads, $10. Pastas and gnocchetti, $15 to $17. Pizzas, $11 to $15. Entrees, $18 to $30. Desserts, $6.
WHAT WE LIKED Spanish fries, piquillo peppers with crab and goat cheese, salt-roasted beets, mint pappardelle with lamb shank ragout, roasted baby chicken, short ribs, panna cotta, chocolate cake with black pepper gelato, caffè macchiato.
IF YOU GO Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 to 10:30 p.m. For reservations, call ahead after noon on the day you want to go. On-street parking. Takeout available.
RATINGS Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.