Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Closer Look: Tappo Restaurant

Fairfield County has a proliferation of Italian restaurants across the dining landscape. Some are worthy of return visits while others leave diners scratching their heads in stupefied wonder. Too much of any one thing can be overkill. And here is the bad news: There are a dozen or so Italian restaurants in Stamford alone (either currently open or opening soon). Now for the good news: An authentic new eatery has thrown its hat into the culinary ring—Tappo Restaurant on Bank Street.

Housed in the spot once occupied by “Hand Painted” and opened on October 8, the space has been totally renovated with marble tiles, curious wall niches, exposed brick walls, an impressive rattan covered ceiling and black and white prints. While striking to look at, the real gem here is the cuisine.

Executive Chef Massimo Stecchi, who hails from Torino in the Piedmont region of Italy, created a special tasting menu for the evening using fresh ingredients, some locally sourced while others from as far away as Corata, Italy.

Passed plate hors d’oeuvres included Arborio rice croquettes filled with imported buffalo ricotta; Carciofini Croccanti—superb and crispy fried baby artichoke hearts; housemade veal meatballs with basil in a tangy tomato sauce; and assorted brick oven pizzas.

Carpaccio con Grana e Olio Tartufato
The antipasti dish, Carpaccio con Grana e Olio Tartufato, was velvety smooth and delicate. Thinly shaved strips of grana (an Italian class of goat’s milk cheese) adorned the plate along with arugula. The carpaccio was paired with a glass of Barbera D’ Asti Superiore Piemonte 2006, a smooth red wine produced from a single vineyard from the Barbaresco in the Piedmont region of Italy.

Lasagnette al Pesto di Asparagi
The dish that nearly sent me over the flavor edge was the Lasagnette al Pesto di Asparagi. The layers of homemade lasagna (using organic eggs) alternated with a luscious asparagus pesto filling that was simply divine. The top layer of the lasagna sported golden hues throughout that retained a slight crunchy texture.

Tagliatelle Ragu di Vitello

A second pasta dish, Tagliatelle Ragu di Vitello with Ricotta Salata e Pesto, was also served and it, too, is homemade pasta. The salty goodness of the sliced ricotta salata draped on top of the tagliatelle and paired with a robust veal ragout created an incredibly aromatic dish whose taste was as appealing as its appearance.

Both the Lasagna and the Tagliatelle were paired with a glass of Chianti Classico Quercia Bella Toscana 2007, hailing from Tuscany, made with spicy, dark, ripe berries. This balanced, medium-bodied wine was the ideal complement to both dishes.

Glazed Salmon
The final dish was Glazed Salmon sautéed in orange marmalade and balsamic vinegar reduction. While this particular dish was not a part of the tasting menu, Chef Stecchi and GM Gerardo Mascolo went above and beyond to prepare a non-meat dish for me while others in my party dined heartily on the FIletto Brasato al Vino Rosso, a braised filet mignon in red wine and balsamic reduction.

Also on the plate were garlic and olive oil infused sautéed spinach alongside rosemary seasoned potatoes (perhaps New or Bintje). This course was served with a glass of Donnafugata 2008 Nero D’Avola Sedara Sicilia, a slightly tart variety with sweet vanilla overtones.

While the plates were cleared from the table and several in our party patted their bellies as if their name was Buddha , we all insisted we couldn’t possibly eat another bite. That was until the Gianduja Moose arrived. While this doesn’t appear to be part of the regular dessert menu—and it really should be—it didn’t fail to impress everyone who tried it. The hazelnut infused chocolate mousse had a spicy autumnal flavor that was intensely creamy, decadent and luscious. The mousse was served with a sweet Barolo Chinato that was well-balanced and non-competitive with the dessert.

Tappo’s regular menus (lunch and dinner, with a separate pizza menu, too) are an interesting journey into the flavors of Italy. The food is well thought out, artfully presented and skillfully prepared. The wine list includes varietals from many different Italian regions, including Tuscany, Puglia, Sicily, Piedmont, Campania, as well as over a dozen California wines.

It is my fervent hope that Tappo is a restaurant that is in it for the long haul. In a city overflowing with Italian fare, Tappo is one of the true standouts.

Lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday through Sunday 11 to 11. All major credit cards accepted, handicap accessible, garage and municipal parking available and reservations are recommended for parties of six or more. Prices range: antipasti and salads $7-$13, pastas $14-$24, pizzas $11-$16, entrées $19-$32.

Tappo Restaurant
51 Bank Street
Stamford, CT  

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