Enter Tfor Restaurant on Bedford Street in Greenwich Village and it feels like one of many modest bistros in Manhattan. There is a whitewashed stone wall on one side, a blue-washed wall on the other with two framed identical mirrors on each wall. A small bar stands on one side, fronting on seating for about 40 patrons.
Observe and listen to those diners. Many are talking Italian and most appear to be regulars, which is an encouraging sign for a restaurant barely a month old. The T in that odd name stands for tartare, a signature dish, and the restaurant offers beef, tuna, salmon, shrimp, and other fish in beautifully rounded forms of tartare. It also stands for Tommasso, as in owner Tommaso Roncari, who designed a menu to highlight Mediterranean raw food, particularly Sicilian specialties, while still providing choices for meat eaters.
The beef tartare came as billed, an artfully rounded pillar of bright red Fassona from the Piedmont in northern Italy, grazing ground for the rare Fassona cows. The Fassona, like the Wagyu of Japan, yield low fat, extremely tender beef. The meat is expensive and exemplifies Roncari’s focus on quality. He’s also particular about olive oil, offering three deluxe grades, and these, like Fassona beef, are not widely available.
Our second starter was a luscious treatment of eggplant—Etna eggplant timbal, mated with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, along with rich, creamy caciocavallo cow cheese, a favorite in southern Italy. A bright tomato sauce dressed the eggplant, which was my favorite among a group of appealing appetizers.
Next came a pepper-red and green gambero, the giant shrimp from Mediterranean waters. About five inches long, it was awash in capers and spice, reminding us of moonlit dinners on patios overlooking the sea near Palermo.
There was another T dish to be had, tonnarelli with pistachios, basil, garlic, and huge king prawns. Tonnarelli is a popular pasta in Sicily. It comes in thick strands, rather than rounded or tubular and takes its name from a guitar-like device with metal strings used to cut the pasta.
The olive oil was a revelation. It was offered up generously and we had our choice of three brands, an elegant Partanna from Italy and two from an equally fine producer, Frantoia. Though I certainly would never reject the Partanna, I found my greatest pleasure in the stronger, more intense extra virgin oils from Frantoia, particularly the deeply flavorful Barbera label.
Tfor can be a delightful and rewarding surprise. Certainly, it offers, at reasonable prices, well-prepared, lusty dishes not found in many of the city’s restaurants. The service is attentive and professional and the room is quiet. As for minimal décor, I think of a friend who once declared, you can’t eat the decorations.
Photos: Courtesy of Tfor Restaurant
For more information and reservations, go to the Tfor website