It was mere happenstance that I’ve reviewed two Spanish tapas restaurants last month, but I’ve found a third, in Eastchester, New York, that deserves kudos for taking the genre a step further by putting Italian flavors onto the menu, calling it “Mediterranean Fusion.” Owner Gennaro Martinelli, who runs San Gennaro, one of the best trattorias on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, has taken over a small, quaint space in the suburbs where he’s offering a lot of new ideas you won’t find anywhere else.
Martinelli, born in Capua, Italy, studied cuisine in Paris and worked at Vesuvio on the Champs Elysée, then in various European cities before moving to New York, and at 33 he opened San Gennaro several years ago; Tapas & Cucina debuted this spring. It’s a long, rustic room with good lighting, a small bar, rough wood chairs and tables and paper tabletops. The wine list is not long but of good quality and reasonably priced. The dozen wines by the glass cost from $11 to $14. Martinelli also makes his own limoncello.
The menu is arranged in eight categories: Tapas, Pizza, Salad, Pasta, Paella, Meat, Fish, and Dessert. I can vouch for the pasta, meats and fish at San Gennaro, so my friends and I concentrated on the first two categories, where the more unusual dishes are to be found.
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In Spain’s tapas bars you usually go to the bar and simply pick the tapas arrayed on little plates and eat them standing up or at a table. At T&C the portions are more substantial and plated so that sharing is easy enough. The best thing to do is order several of them; at prices ranging from $8 to $18, six or more will make up an entire meal, and our party of four had tastings of each. You’ll get a complimentary cup of bean soup to rouse your appetite, and there is also good bread you use to soak up all the juices and sauces, as with the grilled octopus served with salad, bruschetta and a lemon dressing ($18). Zucchini flowers would be a rarity at a tapas bar but not so much in Italy right now, so these are stuffed with provolone cheese that oozes out from the bright yellow and green flowers ($13).
Croquettasare always on a tapas menu, and here the crisp little fried balls contain wonderfully fatted Serrano ham ($12), and the plump empanadas ($12) of either chicken, beef or vegetable have a fine, brittle crust and succulent contents. Although I’ve run across it before, I was delighted to find the menu has sweet dates stuffed with pungent bleu cheese, smoky bacon, basil and a rich, garlicky aïoli ($16). Certainly unique is T&C’s pasta pie ($11), a Neapolitan-style timbalo of fat bucatini macaroni lavishly stuffed with mozzarella, peas and chopped meat. And one of the heartier dishes is slow-cooked pork à la Madrilena in a bright, lusty ragù of plum tomatoes, served with soft cornmeal polenta. The only disappointment among the tapas we tried was fried calamari ($15) because the calamari had little flavor of their own and tasted more of the fried batter.
Unusual, too, under the pizza category is the La Tapas, topped with sliced potatoes, sausage, smoky mozzarella and dusted with aromatic rosemary ($16). Next time I go I am eager to try one of the paellas, which include a classic Valenciana as well as a marinara and vegetariana ($32 for two people, $58 for three). Among the pastas, one of the stars at San Gennaro also shines brightly here: nudi, made with ricotta and fontina, chopped spinach and a truffle-dotted cream sauce with bits of crispy prosciutto ($22).
The desserts, made on the premises, included a first-rate, not-too-heavy tiramisu ($10) and leche frita ($11), a form of “fried milk,” typical of Northern Spain.
You could drop into T&C for a light array of tapas or enjoy a full meal, the only dilemma being how to choose among dishes that all seem so savory. By the way, from Manhattan, Eastchester is about a 45-minute drive.
TAPAS & CUCINA
434 White Plains Road, Eastchester NY