Tartufo highlights simple yet exquisite Italian fare

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Buy Photo Italian Burrata with shaved black truffle and frisee salad at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Chef Marco Rossi at work in the kitchen at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Rombo con Vedure: pan-seared halibut served with roasted saffron, asparagus and heirloom carrots at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo One of the dining areas at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Polpettine Tartufate (meatballs) at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo The bar at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Chef Marco Rossi at work in the kitchen at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Gnocchi Cacio e Pepe at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Outdoor dining area at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Chef Marco Rossi with a finished plate at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Tiramisu at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The TennesseanBuy Photo Outdoor dining area at Tartufo.  Alan Poizner / The Tennessean


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Chef Marco Rossi with a finished plate at Tartufo.(Photo: Alan Poizner / The Tennessean)Buy Photo

Tartufo is the Italian word for truffle, the rare subterranean delicacy ferreted out by dogs and hogs trained in the tricky art. It’s an apt name for the restaurant, as its chef Marco Rossi, a native of Rome, uses the precious (and pricey)  umami-filled funghi in many of his dishes. So much so, you could swear there‘s the earthy-sweet pungent fragrance of truffles permeating the restaurant’s air.

The Roman chef and his prized truffles have taken up residence in the house on Hayes Street, the former location of mAmbu/Rosebud/Magnolia South. Co-owners Doc McGhee (of , manager of KISS, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue just to name a few), his wife Wendy McGhee and developer Mac McClung have overseen yet another transformation of the Victorian home, which now has a more polished air, its interiors modernized, melding 19th and 21st centuries.

The initial draw is chef Rossi, whose flamboyant, self-deprecating style is immediately endearing.

“I am just a cook,” he says with thick accent, wry smile and shrug. “Just call me Marco.”

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But the ultimate draw is his Risotto al Tartufo — black truffle risotto — the preparation of which he finishes table-side in the great hollowed bowl of a Parmegiano-Reggiano wheel. As Rossi folds the arborio rice grains, plumped from their slow stir in a heady broth laced with shavings of black truffle, he scrapes the inner sides of the bowl, adding the caramel richness of the cheese to the batch. To watch this is absolutely mesmerizing, unlike anything we‘ve experienced here or anywhere. And then to eat it — pure pleasure, flavors that expand and deepen in your mouth and linger. We’ve since come across a fitting Italian saying, “Piatto ricco, mi ci ficco.” (Rich plate, I dive in!)

At Tartufo Nashville, there are two ways to have that experience: either as part of the chef’s five-course tasting, where appetizer, salad and dessert courses are set, allowing for choices in both pasta/rice and secondi or entrée courses; or as selected from the a la carte menu. (We chose the tasting menu.)

And, if you can’t make up your mind, Rossi advises, “Put your trust in my hands. Let me cook for you.”  In any case, it all comes at an aggressive price, but what a marvelous ride!

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Polpettine Tartufate (meatballs) at Tartufo. (Photo: Alan Poizner / The Tennessean)

It begins with Polpettine Tartufate — Rossi’s homemade meatballs in fiery red arrabiata sauce, which he drizzles with white-truffle infused extra virgin olive oil, finishing the dish with a sprinkle of pecorino and wafer of white truffle.

We don’t know where he sources his burrata, but it’s of exceptional quality — a fresh mozzarella ball that, when pierced, spills its creamy center. For his seasonal insalata, he assembles Treviso radicchio — bitter boat-shaped leaves, two filled with fontina and raspberry jam, two with Dulce de Gorgonzola. The four surround a round of burrata on a mound of frisee. A fine olive oil and reduction of Barolo wine vinegar line the plate.  Dab with some warm ciabatta bread and savor.

Rossi’s handmade spinach gnocchi are fresh and supple. He prepares them in a classic Roman Cacio e Pepe sauce, simply yet deftly made with pecorino romano cheese, cracked black pepper and pasta water. It adheres beautifully to the dumplings and imparts incredible flavor — greater than you’d imagine from such simple ingredients. To this, he gilds the lily, adding finely diced pancetta, crisp and salty. For our tastes, it’s a step too far — the dish is perfect without it. But for those who believe the addition of bacon (or pancetta) makes everything better, this is for you.

And, of course, the memorable risotto. Dive in.

In his seafood preparations, Rossi deploys saffron with the same gusto as he does truffles. Buttery pan-seared sea scallops arrive on a bed of sautéed leeks, the aromatic red-gold threads strewn over them.  For his Rombo con Verdure plate, roasted heirloom carrots and asparagus are perfumed with saffron, as well as the thick halibut fillet. Here, he adds a few truffle shavings to the duck fat potatoes for good measure.

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Tiramisu at Tartufo. (Photo: Alan Poizner / The Tennessean)

At last, dessert. “Only one choice,” the chef confesses. “I’m a limited pastry chef.” But the tiramisu is lavishly constructed: lightly sweetened mascarpone, Savoiardi lady fingers, espresso and an edible orchid gracing the top.

Service was polished, on par with the food. Our server is like Rossi’s right arm on the floor, and keeps things moving seamlessly, professionally. Buon appetito.


1808 Hayes St 

Hours: 5 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday 

Reservations: accepted

Payment: major credit cards accepted

Alcohol: full bar

Food: Italian

Cost: 5 -course tasting menu: $75 ($100 with risotto al tartufo). A la carte:  Antipasti: $24-$36. Insalate: $22-$23. Paste e Risotti $26-$42. Secondi: $31-$38. Dulce: $10.

Parking: on street, small back lot, valet


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