Skappo Italian Wine Bar, at the corner of Crown and Orange, attempts to offer the experience of Italian family dining in dowtown New Haven. But the Italian way of life is so distinct from that of the typical college student; can such an attempt really succeed with Yalies?
Opened roughly a year ago, Skappo makes a valiant attempt to recreate the unique Italian dining experience downtown. The cozy atmosphere, wide variety of dishes and extensive wine list offer all you need to make you feel like you’re at a table in Assisi (the restaurant’s adopted hometown), but you have to come with your own time, money and motivation.
Skappo is a family-owned and family-run business. The Sincavages, the family in question, want you to feel like you are being entertained in their home in the Italian way. Brother and sister wait tables, while mom, dad and youngest brother work the kitchen. The family is happy to talk to you about anything and everything on the menu and off of it.
The dishes at Skappo are designed around a traditional Italian meal, which in its simplest form progresses from antipasto to primo to secondo and finally to dolci. For those unfamiliar with Italian cuisine that means appetizer then pasta then meat then sweet. It’s a simple and delicious format that makes for a great meal with friends. It’s also an extended process that requires sufficient amounts of time and wine to achieve authenticity.
If I were to break up with Skappo, I would tell her, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and it would be no lie. I went with two friends and a busy evening ahead of me. I wanted to eat a hearty meal and get out. But this is not what one is meant to do at Skappo. You must set aside some time (and some money), order several dishes over several hours (and a wine to go with each — the menu recommends one for each dish), and relax like the Italians do. Sadly, relaxing is something Yalies rarely find time to do, especially over food; meals at Yale are often 30 minute scarfing sessions capped off with the ubiquitous “I’ve got to run.”
At the time, I was irritated by the slow pace of service at Skappo. Looking back, I think the real problem was that my pace was off. Skappo is meant to be an experience, not just another injection of nutrients. Food and conversation are to be savored not inhaled, and time at Skappo is as important an ingredient as garlic. Ultimately though, I fear busy Yalies might just prefer the nutrient injection.
But enough philosophy, how’s the food?
Pretty decent. For a starter, you can’t go wrong with the piatto misto ($9.25), a varied selection of Italian cured meats and featured cheeses. On my visit, the dish included the usual prosciutto and salami, as well as a sheep’s cheese and a cow’s cheese fermented with wine. The platter is great, but only testifies to the restaurant’s good taste and ability to shop well, and not to any culinary genius. The crostini di bandiera ($4.50), a partially deconstructed bruschetta with a sliver of parmesan and one Roma tomato on crispy garlic toast, was a perfectly executed rendition of an Italian classic.
Skappo departs from the mainstream a bit more with the salsa tartufata con mozzarella fresca ($5.50), Umbrian black truffles and mushrooms spread with fresh mozzarella atop homemade walnut bread. I’m a sucker for fresh mozzarella on pretty much anything, and the walnut bread is excellent. The truffle and mushroom mixture tasted mostly like olive oil — not a bad thing, but I would have expected more from the much-hyped truffles.
The gnocchi di quattro formaggi ($9.25), four cheese gnocchi for those of you who have never even seen a Romance language before, were the biggest disappointment of the evening. I’m not certain which four cheeses made up the gnocchi, but they tasted like the sort of strong funky-smelling cheese best spread thinly on crackers and kept out of the reach of children. They were edible but nothing I’d want to call a meal or pay $10 for.
The panino di nonna angie ($7.25), a pressed sandwich of potatoes and spicy sausage redeemed Skappo for their gnocchi. Hot, crunchy, spicy, savory, this panino’s got ’em all. Grandma Angie, wherever you are, hats off to you.
The secondi include meat and fish dishes (only one fish entree on my visit) such as cinghiale al vino con lenticchie umbre ($11.25) — wild boar marinated in white wine and served with a lentil stew — and peposo ($9.95) — beef stew in a peppered tomato sauce. In my rush, I passed on ordering a meat dish, but the ones I saw served at other tables looked tasty.
I also passed on dessert, not because I didn’t have any room, but because the items listed simply didn’t appeal to me. The most intriguing was the torrone ($4.50), a traditional dish of nougat and hazelnut. Somewhat mysterious was the torta di farro e cioccolato ($4.75), a “luxurious chocolate and farro cake, drizzled with sapa — a syrup made of cooked wine must — and topped with fresh whipped cream.” Farro is a grain typically used in Italian pasta, but just what is wine must, anyway?
Ultimately, the food is perfectly passable, but what Skappo really has to offer is a style of dining. The Sincavages ask us to eat in the Italian way, slowly savoring every bite and enjoying the company of friends and family over a glass — or five — of wine.
I think they’re onto something. Yalies, and Americans in general, give little thought to the food they put in their body. If it will pass the gullet without triggering the gag reflex, down it goes. Skappo may not have the best food in New Haven, but it has a better sense of the way food is meant to be eaten than most restaurants here. And that’s something.
Can Skappo convince us to slow down and savor a meal? I doubt it, but at least someone is trying.
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