Dino Tapper and his partner, Mike Finkelstein, are old friends—they both attended high school at Bethesda-Chevy Chase. Restaurants are in Tapper's blood—he bought Floriana, his Dupont Italian eatery, from his mother, and says that back in the ’70s his father ran an Italian restaurant in the space that currently houses Sorriso at 3518 Connecticut Avenue, Northwest.
Just down the block and across the street is Pulpo, Tapper and Finkelstein’s new tapas restaurant in the former Cleveland Park Tackle Box. Tapper says the friends always envisioned opening three more restaurants after Floriana. They’ve spent this year planning Sophia—a “high-end, modern Italian” affair named for Tapper’s daughter—and hoped to launch the Pulpo concept after that. But when Tackle Box owner Jonathan Umbel approached them with his Cleveland Park spot, they put Sophia on hold and set to work creating Pulpo. (The concept for the fourth restaurant is Asian fusion.)
The current menu of about 30 items represents a small portion of what’s to come, says Tapper. He brought over Scott Perry, executive chef at Floriana, to oversee the kitchen and cold bar up front; Finkelstein is in charge of the beverage program. Once the restaurant has its liquor license—which should happen in early June—it will serve cocktails like the Pulpo Picante, with mezcal, passion fruit purée, and jalapeño-infused simple syrup; and La Sandia de la Vida, featuring vodka infused with watermelon rind, fresh watermelon juice, sugar, lime, and a splash of club soda.
Tapper is quick to point out that while Pulpo’s dishes are inspired by Spanish tapas, Perry isn’t limiting himself to that country’s culinary traditions. There’s a tortilla española on the menu, along with patatas bravas and three types of paella. But there’s also bone marrow with mustard-green pesto and pickled salad, seared foie gras, and a prawn ceviche with pineapple and mint. A mezzanine level, which is still under construction, will be available for private events and parties. Tapper also plans to build a rooftop deck down the line. Weekday happy hour will happen from 5 to 7 with food and drink specials, and an all-you-can-eat weekend brunch is the works, as is Friday lunch service.
Right now, the restaurant is serving evenings on the ground floor only—which has been transformed from seafood shanty into something at once more modern and rustic, with exposed brick walls and a bar lined with wood left over from Tackle Box. Meredith Smith, who owns Frame Avenue in Bethesda, is responsible for the decor. She’s a childhood friend of Tapper’s and Finkelstein’s too.
Pulpo. 3407 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-450-6857; pulpodc.com.