Tavola was set on a busy street with tons of passerby peering into the elongated restaurant. Owner, Nick Accardi sat my guest and I at quaint table-nook right in the front of the space. The feel of the eatery was warm and in ways admirably old school. The bones of Tavola originated from 1893 and was once the infamous family-owned grocery store Manganaro’s. Accardi was wise to keep some of the older detail from the store in his new design. As more and more guests started filling up the tables we were given two glasses of Prosecco and our menus.
As we browsed through the extended list of handcrafted pizzas I couldn't help but notice the beauty in the back of the restaurant. Two gorgeous and massive wood burning ovens caught my eye. "Meet Etna and Vesuvio," Accardi proudly introduced. "These are my babies!" And what babies they were! A pair of ovens weighing in at 7,000 pounds and made from vesuvio volcanic clay flown all the way from Naples, Italy. As my eyes widened looking into these works of art I could see and smell the wonderful cherry and olive woods that were burning. I couldn't wait to try the masterpieces Tavola called "pizza."
"I am going to start you off with a pie," Accardi said. With a list of over 15 pies there truly is something for every taste bud. Before the pie arrived a mini crock came out filled with a warm and comforting homemade soup that reminded me of true Italian peasant cooking. A delicious hearty broth with vegetables and homemade breadcrumbs to top. We scooped every last bit of broth. Before we could finish, out came a perfectly crisp cooked pizza. Half Margherita (pomodoro, basil, mozzarella, reggiano) and half Baresa (fennel sausage, broccoli rabe, roasted bredcrumbs, mozzarella). All of the flavors were spot on. A thin crust that was crunchy yet held all of the toppings and cheese on just perfectly. We finished off every last bite with no regret. This was true Neapolitan pizza.
Another glass of Prosecco appeared on the table and I couldn't help but browse through the dinner menu. A wonderful assortment of antipasti, homemade pasta dishes, meat, poultry and market fish dishes. Where does one even begin? Next came out a beautiful swordfish steak coated with a salmoriglio sauce (lemon, garlic, olive oil and herbs). The fish was plated with deliciously grilled asparagus and plum tomatoes that just burst in your mouth. I must admit, I am not typically a fan of swordfish, but I was blown away. Moist, flavored to perfection with bursts of tart lemon and the smoothness from the olive oil and herbs.I even sopped up the salmoriglio with some of Tavola's homemade bread. I looked at my guest and exclaimed "I could eat this every day." She was in agreeance. I flaked the last of the swordfish with my fork and started on the veggies. These weren't your average grilled veggies. They were tender and smoky and the perfect consistency paired with the fish. We loved every single thing about this dish.
Next to grace our table was the eggplant parmigiana. Typically I would never order this dish out at a restaurant since my very own Italian born mother makes the most delectable eggplant parm a la Parisi, but I was excited to see how the Sicilian way could pamper my taste buds. Out came Sicilian eggplant (grilled not fried) topped with provolone, plum tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. This dish was much lighter than the traditional parmigians we are used, but I liked it. I liked it a lot. Light and flavorful with the taste of freshness from the tomatoes and the creaminess from the cheese. No complaints from my end. We scooped up every last morsel.
To wrap up our lovely meal two cannolis and espressos came out to accompany us. A splash of sambuca and a bite from the mini cannoli had made the perfect end to our meal. The cannolis were just the perfect size and the shells so crisp and light flown all the way in from Palermo, Italy. Bronte pistachios, imported from Sicily, topped the creamy goodness inside and a touch of candied orange peel gave the sweet treats just the right bit of tanginess.
If you are looking for a quaint spot for a night out with a friend or companion with no frills food and authentic cuisine or looking to have a late lunch filled with quick-cooked pizzas and an impressive happy hour (half-priced wine every day from 3:30-6:30 p.m.) then Tavola is the place for you! Brunch is also held on Saturdays and Sundays from 2-5 p.m. Want to see a bit more behind the scenes? Check out this mini documentary of all of the wonderful sites and smells from Tavola to Italy!
Tavola: 488 Ninth Ave (Between 37th & 38th Street) New York, NY 10018. Tel: 212.273.1181.