December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

That`s Italian---and more

By Nicole Grasse, T.J. Becker

Editor in Chief

What sets Tavolo apart isn’t its unusual name (Italian for table) but its personal touches. For instance, shoppers can select recipes, store them in a customized cookbook, add to a grocery list or e-mail to a friend.

A blend of kitchenware, gourmet food, cookbooks, even cooking CDs, Tavolo provokes culinary inspiration along with the tools to help whip up masterpieces. Formerly known as DigitalChef.com, the site relaunched this summer along with its new, more Epicurean-sounding name-which will be important when it introduces a new line of private label cookware.

The site’s redesign is winning positive reviews. An earlier criticism was that Tavolo boasted “incredible content” but fell short when it came to merchandising, says Neil Stern, partner at McMillan/Doolittle, a Chicago retail consulting firm. Yet he credits Tavolo for making major strides. Today there are “more icons, better descriptions and greater degree of organization for merchandise.”

Harley Manning, an analyst at Forrester Research, praises Tavolo’s approach to navigation and attention to detail: “They have all the elements of a good site.”

Boosting its credentials, Tavolo is an exclusive partner of the Culinary Institute of America. For perplexed chefs and shoppers, Tavolo offers live Web chat. This tool is prominently displayed though the site, making it easy to get help instantly.

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