During the summer my food consumption goes down—most days I’m content to nibble on a few well-dressed leaves of lettuce or perhaps indulge in a well-grilled piece of fish. Tappo, a new salumeria-cum-bistro in the East Village, seems to understand this. My friend had selected it for its Euro-mandated smoker-friendly room, but I knew I’d found the answer to my own needs the minute I entered. The meat case in the front was packed with fresh fish and steaks and topped with bottles of olives and a garland or two of sausages, in the manner of a Greek taverna. The room was filled with long scrubbed-wood tables and the occasional four-top, each bearing a vase of summery-hued garden flowers. The front room boasted large French doors hung with curtains that fluttered intermittently in a welcome breeze, and the smokers’ section off the kitchen offered occasional glimpses of the masters at work. In each, seating for twos or larger groups is at communal tables, just close enough to share the space and distant enough not to be bothered by anyone’s inanities but your own.
But here’s what really razzed my dazz: At Tappo, seasonal appetizers are the constant on the laminated menu, while a separate sheet lists the shifting nightly selection of mains. The place specializes in Mediterranean tapas. We perused, and I was thrilled to find that one of the regular offerings was faraona tonnato—guinea fowl in a tuna fish sauce ($16). These speckled birds hark back to the African continent. Perhaps it was their reputation as crop robbers as well as their feral tendencies that inspired xenophobic Europeans to dub them the Bohemians of the barnyard, or perhaps it was the fact that, although they were eaten in ancient Greece and mentioned by Herodotus, it was Gypsies who revived their consumption in the 14th century. The Italian word that I saw on the menu, faraona, recalls their connection with pharaonic Egypt, as does the Latin name of the genus, Numida, meaning from Numidia, the ancient equivalent of Algeria. Along with cats and jackasses, guinea fowl are the only animals to survive transplantation from Africa to the New World. Eaten in other parts of the hemisphere, they come in a poor fourth in these parts—after domestic hens, turkeys, and wild birds. We don’t know what we’re missing. The tasty flesh was sumptuous under the light napping of tuna sauce, which masked the muskiness of the bird and highlighted the fatless flesh’s resemblance to baby veal.
Tappo, however, offers more than faraona. A cazuela of angulas ($28) was toothsome, but only tepid the first time. On a second try, a tangle of baby eels and their companion chunks of garlic arrived sweet, tender, and, crucially, bubbling hot. The sardines tartare ($10)—a combination of minced raw fish, red onion, bits of tomato, and snippets of chive with a zest of citrus to bring out the slightly smoky flavor of the fish—were a sharp twist on the usual tuna and salmon. From the bounty of salads, the arugula with a crumble of goat cheese and slices of strawberry ($8) proved a tempting mix of sweet and bitey. Baked baby bay scallops ($12) were less successful, their well-cooked delicacy overwhelmed by scallion and radish sprouts. On a second trip a carnivorous friend and I decided to try a main, opting for the aged sirloin Tagliata ($26). A mighty slab of perfectly pink meat arrived, accompanied by a toss of arugula topped with shavings of parmesan and a lemon wedge. But there was enough left over for sandwiches. We had no intention of resisting the lure of Tappo’s aps.