The walls are made from chunky stone blocks reminiscent of mid 19th century Toronto. Large wooden beams accent the room, and provide contrast to the glitzy chandeliers. The bar-length mirror sweeps broadly across the room. What we have is a spot that can come to the rescue of almost anyone wondering about the wonderfully restored neighborhood known as the Distillery District.
I've been to Tappo Wine Bar & Restaurant several times and what's consistently striking is the attention to detail fro
m owner Armando Russo. While not immediately obvious, this quality comes out in many small ways that add up to total satisfaction. The menu features northern Italian-style risottos to Mediterranean-style dishes; especially wonderful are the seafood pastas and rustic antipasti. I love to see a classic Italian menu that follows the traditional order of antipasti (any type of starter, like soup, salad, etc.), primi (pasta or risotto), secondi (seafood, fish or meat) and finally, dolci, also known as the dessert.
In addition to this menu, Armando tells me it's just about game season-we're talking about the meat, not hockey. (As an aside, Armando's partner, Shane Corson, was a power forward with the Toronto Maple Leafs and, coincidentally, many of their clientÃƒÂ¨le like to come in for a pre-game dinner.)
Armando will be adding wild meats to the Tappo menu for approximately six weeks and will include special tasting menus, as well as à la carte specials. There will be bison, venison, and wild boar, perfect accompaniments for the classic ragouts that top the homemade tagliatelle. Chef Frank Brisson has been with Tappo for the past two years and will work with sommelier John Cowdery to ensure top notch wine matches for "game" season.
On this particular evening, I may be a little early in the season to enjoy game; however, I still enjoyed the Lattuga Romana e Radicchio ($13) a horseradish dressed salad with finishing touches of spicy pancetta and shavings of Parmegiano Reggiano. For my entrée, I ordered the Tagliatelle con quaglie e rapini ($24)-a sophisticated grilled quail with a cremini mushroom-veal sauce atop silky, homemade tagliatelle. My guests, Sid and David, loved the Penne del Salsiccia de maiale piccante ($16) also known as penne with spicy Italian pork sausage in a sweet tomato sauce.
We opted for a New World touch to pair with our primi: 2001 Antiquarium Shiraz, a private import on the list. The fruit-forward shiraz can play up both the spiciness of the penne and the earthy flavours of the tagliatelle dish. Armando informs us that he has just "stocked up on lots of new wine so John and I are in the middle of re-tooling the wine list before Winterlicious."
On a previous visit, I inquired about the grappa list and Armando sent me something unusual to enjoy with my espresso. ""It's Grappo Camomilla," Russo intoned. Chamomile? The server poured an elegant tulip stem for me taste. "The ladies love this," Armando said with a conspiratorial smile. It has beguiling aromas and the kick of a grappa, with a little sweetness. Balanced, just like this well-prepared meal, in my estimation.