A new Italian hot spot adds flavor to Stamford’s dining repertoire
photographs thomas mcgovern
Stamford has a voracious appetite for Italian restaurants; there seems to be one on every block. Yet Tappo, a stylish Italian trattoria on Bank Street, is a fresh and distinctive newcomer—a happy standout from the crowd. When I first walked into this warmly modern eatery, I was struck by its we’re-not-in-the-suburbs-anymore vibe. But the food is even more appealing. From the unadorned appetizers to the authentic entrées, the dishes here are accessible and memorable.
In this hip, urban space designed by architect Bruce Beinfield with exposed brick on one side and a ceiling and arched wall finished with dark rattan, I felt transported to SoHo. While the décor says new and trendy, the people behind Tappo are old hats at running restaurants; the owners are veteran Italian restaurateurs Joseph and Aldo Criscuolo, and at the helm in the kitchen is Executive Chef Massimo Stecchi—a Northern Italian who honed his skills at Figa, Da Silvano and Cinque Terre in New York.
The trattoria features regional Italian cuisine, with an emphasis on simplicity and purity of ingredients. Case in point: carciofini croccanti, an appetizer of baby artichoke hearts that are lightly fried and crispy on the edges. They’re like the ultimate vegetable chips, and I loved snacking on them at both dinners I’ve eaten here. Another standout starter is the carpaccio, razor thin slices of raw beef filet drizzled with truffle oil and topped with grana cheese; the flavor is intense and the meat so microthin that the dish is satisfying but not filling. The milky fresh mozzarella di bufula is a far cry from the average and worth savoring just on its own. Also try the bite-sized veal meatballs accompanied by a zesty red sauce.
For a salad course, we picked the Belgium endive, each leaf filled with sweet Gorgonzola, walnuts and chestnuts, to make it easy to share. The crisp salad has that yin and yang of salty and sweet, with the honey on top of the tangy cheese, finished with a crunch of walnut.
Before diving into our main courses, we had to sample at least one of the pizzas, so we ordered the San Daniele, topped with prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato. A friend who joined us for dinner is a serious pizza geek (he’s tried every pie in the area and grills his own at home). That Tappo’s pizza gets his endorsement, as well as mine, tells you this is a pizza worth investigating. The tomato was very fresh, the spread of prosciutto generous, and the medium-thin crust cooked to just the right degree of crispiness.
Garganelli with wild arugula and smoked prosciutto
To get a sense of Tappo’s genius, you must order at least one pasta dish. I suggest the house special—lasagnette al pesto di asparagi. The papery layers of homemade pasta mingled with an asparagus pesto and béchamel sauce make this dish almost delicate. A heartier pasta that I also loved is the tagliatelle ragu di vitello, strips of pasta, a rich veal sauce and ricotta balancing the sweetness of the tomatoes. At my most recent dinner here, everyone at the table went back for a second helping of the garganelli con speck e rucola, hand-rolled penne with wild arugula and smoked prosciutto. The only pasta that wasn’t my cup of tea is the paccheri ai frutti di mare. Though the sea beans served with the large tubular pasta were an unusual touch, the seafood wasn’t abundant enough for my taste. Call me lazy, but it was a bit too much mess and effort to dig into the little langostino tails.
The tuna we ordered, on the other hand, was an indulgence of lightly seared fish, mostly sashimi inside, with a lovely fennel and orange salad on the side.
Among the beef entrées, I prefer the filetto brasato al vino rosso, tender and beautifully rare beef topped with shavings of white truffle, escorted by crispy roast potatoes and spinach. We also enjoyed the rib-eye steak topped with arugula, though it was served more rare than I had requested. (I seldom eat chicken when I’m out, but the stuffed chicken breast with speck and fontina in a mushroom sauce was juicy, tender and interesting enough to order again.)
At both meals I’ve had here, the service was attentive and unobtrusive, and the finishing details were just right. The dreamy tiramisu was a creamy and not overly sweet version of the classic, earning raves even from the “I-don’t-do-dessert” gal in our party. The gelato was luscious, and the milk for our coffee came out piping hot. These fine points linger in my mind, letting an already memorable meal end on a high note.
51 Bank Street
Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Fri.–Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m.