After nearly two years of renovations, the space formerly occupied by Yaffa Cafe has opened its doors as Taberna 97. The team behind the new restaurant, which serves Portuguese fare in a casual tavern setting, also owns St. Dymphna’s on the same block of St Marks Place.
The menu focuses on shareable plates of classic Portuguese tavern food, with selections like Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato—littleneck clams with crispy shaved garlic in a white wine sauce—and Chouriço assado—rich, smoky sausage served over an open flame. “Portuguese cuisine is basically like peasant food,” said chef Brian Lopes. “That’s how it’s always been.”
“We wanted comfort food, but at the same time, Portuguese food is very healthy,” said Patricia Sanguedo, who co-owns the restaurant along with her sister, Raquel Sanguedo (the sisters are Portuguese) and husband, Eric Baker. “Because they don’t cook with milk; there’s not a lot of butter. Just a lot of olive oil and spices and garlic.”
The remodeling process took nearly two years, but the results are striking. The warm interior is rich with dark wood benches and candlelit tables, creating a homey atmosphere perfect for cozying in with a few glasses of wine. The bar serves beer and organic Portuguese wines (along with one selection from California) served in painted ceramic jugs.
The restaurant’s old world feel is no accident. Much of the interior—stone tables, wooden benches, slate—was hand-selected in Portugal and shipped to New York. “In Portugal my dad came and helped me pick all the things people made for me, like the hand-painted tiles,” Patricia said. “I know every person that worked on it, so it feels very personal.”
The owners, Patricia explained, entered the venture with a commitment to making the restaurant as green as possible. This meant not only using organic, farm-to-table ingredients and sourcing from sustainable fisheries, but renovating the structure itself to meet LEED specifications. “It’s as sustainable as it gets,” Patricia said.
There are no tables in the backyard (the outdoor seating issue was part of the reason Yaffa closed), which has been converted into a landscaped space overlooked by the dining room’s large windows. “I think once the spring comes we’ll try to do kind of an edible garden,” Patricia said.
“We’ve only been open a few days and we’ve had so many Portuguese people already,” she said. “I was like, wow, I didn’t even know this many Portuguese existed in Manhattan!”
Taberna 97, 97 St. Mark’s Place, East Village; open nightly from 5pm-1am and for brunch Sat. and Sun. from 11am-4pm; 212-477-5600.