An Italian feast awaits in the lower circle of Hell’s Kitchen.
February 06, 2014

Tavola, 488 Ninth Ave (btwn 37th/38th Sts), 212-273-1181, TavolaHellsKitchen.com

SHORT ORDER: Solid, rustic fare takes a festive crowd on a tour of Italy.
PETER’S PICKS: veal and wild boar pappardelle; chicken alla Romana; cannoli fried in pig fat
PETER’S PANS: No pans—on the contrary—we’re glad that crazy old combative woman from the decrepit Manganaro’s has left the building.

Warming wafts of pizza baking briskly in the 7,000 pound wood-burning oven delivered all the way from Naples greeted my fella and me as we entered Tavola. The bustling, garrulous crowd seated around the center sharing table was cheerful, while lone wolves hunched over the capacious bar contentedly fiddled with their blue-lit smartphones. Owner Nick Accardi (Cola’s, Rocco’s) smoothly operates the former Manganaro’s space under a tin ceiling and slowly spinning fans as if it were his own personal dining room at home—and I suppose it is, as he convivially translates the titular Tavola to a most welcoming “table,” fully explaining the rustic cuisines of Puglia, Sicily, Rome and Sardinia to his guests.

A full-bodied Super Tuscan red hinted at leather and cherry notes while a white Falanghina was light and slightly frizzante. Our puffy pizza arrived with a crisped crust and a soft center, Neapolitan style—what’s amazing is that in the highly heated oven, the whole baking process takes only a shocking 90 seconds or so! Once the “leoparding” is achieved, creating the blistered spots on the dough, the pizza is done. Braised cubes of pancetta and Brussels sprouts topped ours, along with melted mozzarella, pungent Pecorino Toscano and whole peppercorns. The steaming pie was further embellished with an emerald green olive oil from Sicily, and although it appeared temptingly tantalizing upon arrival, we patiently allowed it to cool before greedily devouring every slice.

Crisp romaine and Parmigiano-Reggiano were embraced by a basil-infused dressing with intermingling flavors of anchovy, lemon and parsley. We ventured forth into lush, salty fired-up artichokes with arugula and shavings of pointed, aged Grana cheese.

Our pick for pasta was pappardelle, its creamy folds tossed with a fit of cremini mushrooms in a rapturous veal and wild boar ragu. It would have been enough to just spend an evening alone with a huge bowl of the stuff! Brussels sprouts with pancetta and more Pecorino Toscano cheese were a divine mouthful. Brasciola was akin to a refined Italian meatloaf of sorts, stuffed with cubes of Pecorino Romano and a simmering side of brown lentils that had been slowly stewed in chicken stock with a mirepoix—a mixture of chopped carrots, onions and celery. We playfully clashed forks fighting over who would get the last bite. A thick breast of chicken alla Romana was tender and lemony with the fine flavor of the grill clinging to it. Sides of roasted potatoes and thick shards of artichokes were the perfect pairing.

We were, at best, ill-prepared for the outrageous handmade cannoli with shells flown in from Italy that were fried in pork fat from Italian pigs! Such a treat with Sicilian pistachios (the most expensive in the world, but still the dessert was moderately priced at $7.50) and candied bits of oranges. Enchanting chestnuts followed, having been roasted on a seasonal open fire, of course.  

Prices: Appetizers: $7.75–$15.75; Entrées: $10–$27.95; Alcohol: wine, beer.