Saturday, 24 May 2014

Tartufo - classic Italian

It was a Sunday night and we had absolutely no idea what we wanted for dinner.... None.  Sometimes it's like that and SC and I just look at each other and shrug our shoulders.  You would think that it would be easy to grab a bite to eat with so many great restaurants just a short walk away but sometimes 'analysis paralysis' in.  To sort ourselves out, we went for a walk and it just so happened that we walked towards the Valley and did a menu shop.  You know what I mean, walking up to interesting looking dining spots, casually glancing at the menu and seeing if anything jumps out.

Restaurant after restaurant passed us by as literally nothing looked interesting to us.  Eventually we made our way to Emporium and after walking a complete circle around the little Valley precinct we found ourselves standing in front of Tartufo.  A quick glance and a short nod and we were walking through the front door and asking for a seat.

It had been some time since our last outing to Tartufo, in fact it was incredibly over twelve months since we last walked through its doors (see post here).  That last outing to the Tony Percuoco's incredibly well regarded Italian fine diner was a beauty and we'd had a great time.  It was a contrast to our first visit, which had been disappointing to say the least and we were hoping that our latest visit would herald another winning meal.

I'm not sure if had been a conscious decision to head to Tartufo but I had been talking about the fine diner earlier that week. A fellow foodie asked if I'd seen Queensland's top ten wildest desserts in which Tartufo's chocolate fondant had featured heavily.  Tony Percuoco Tartufo is used to awards, informal and formal and has consistently been recognised with chefs hats and Gourmet Travellers stars.  

It was very quiet when we entered the spacious dining room and I immediately noticed a huge change since our last visit.  The restaurant had split and a huge pizza oven now stood in the corner of the restaurant.  We'd been asked by the maitre'd if we'd wanted the pizzeria or the dining room but before I could contemplate our options my brain had instructed my mouth to direct us to the dining room.  Pizza would have to wait for our next visit.

Since we'd last been to Tartufo, we had spent some time in New York City and visited the legendary SoHo restaurant Balthazar (see here), which had an uncanny resemblance to Tartufo.  I was again stuck by the similarities and for a while I was transported back to our NY visit, but I was snapped out of my reverie *sigh* by our waiter presenting us with our menus. The Tartufo menu reads like a 'who's who' of traditional Italian fare with gli stuzzichini (appetisers), i primi (entrée) and i secondi piatti (main course).  Knowing how generous the servings were from previous visits, we opted for appetisers and entrees with a hope that there would be room left for dessert.

We started off with the calzoni fritti: small handmade calzoni filled with ricotta, salami, provola, mozzarella and white pepper, fried and topped with fresh tomato and parmesan.  There were three generous sized calzoni presented in a very rustic manner and with a vibrant red tomato sauce.  SC wasn't a huge fan of the calzoni, with the dough being a little too thick to the ratio of the filling.  It's not that they were unpalatable, the flavours were OK, it's just that the balance of ingredients were out and they tasted a bit doughy.  I think that slightly thinner dough and a little more of the lovely salami would have helped significantly.

My appetiser of calamari fritti: salt and pepper calamari deep fried and served on a bed of fresh rocket with a side of lemon mayonnaise was much nicer.  The calamari was cooked expertly and had a lovely texture that was soft yet slightly chewy.  Best of all was the balance of salt versus pepper.  Some calamari can be too salty or the pepper non existent, not so with the Tartufo version.  With each bite, I could taste the salt and pepper, with the latter bringing the flavour of the calamari in a way that was quite unusual.  The lemon mayonnaise provided a little acidity and I found that I didn't need to squeeze much fresh lemon on the plate for extra flavour, it was all there in the creamy emulsion.

After her appetiser, SC was a bit apprehensive about her 'primi' of mafalde al ragù: house made short curly pasta served with traditional slow cooked beef and pork ragù and finished with fresh ricotta and parmesan cheese.  She needn't have worried, it was quite spectacular with a lovely intense flavour that came from the tomato based sauce and the beef and pork.  It was so good that SC was comparing it to our benchmark ragu from Beccofino (see post here), which is high praise indeed.  The pasta was a perfect al dente and the unusual shape held the sauce wonderfully.  The fresh parmesan and ricotta greatly enhanced the dish, especially as it melted into the sauce.  

I'm always going to expect perfection when I order a risotto from a great Italian restaurant, nothing less will do.  I was super impressed with my risotto alle capesante: sweet corn & pea risotto served with mascarpone, soft herbs and topped with scallops.  When I'd ordered the risotto, I'd not read the menu correctly and didn't realise that there were going to be scallops added.  You can imagine my surprise and delight when I saw four plump and perfectly caramelised scallops sitting atop an equally beautiful pea and corn risotto.  It was the ideal size for a risotto too, not too much and plated properly so it was not thick and goopey on the plate.  The sweet corn flavour shone through and the freshness of the peas helped offset some of the sweetness.  It was a wonderful example of how a risotto should be put together.

Because we'd planned ahead and not ordered too much food, we were completely comfortable with ordering dessert.  The panna cotta al miele and vaniglia: honey and vanilla infused panna cotta served with house made gelato looked beautiful on the plate with the supremely set panna cotta displaying the right amount of wobble on the plate.  The strawberry sorbet was slightly tart with just a hint of sweetness and worked wonderfully with the sweet panna cotta.  The strawberries added the freshness and there was some crumble for texture, overall it was a triumph.

With the idea that Tartufo had one of Queensland's most wicked desserts, I had to go for the fondente al cioccolato: soft centred chocolate fondant, infused with fresh espresso with mascarpone cream and shaved belgian dark chocolate.  I love a good fondant and this was incredible.  The warm gooey centre just oozed out of the fondant the second I speared it with my spoon.  The rich chocolaty centre had just a hint of coffee flavour, just enough to invoke fond memories of my coffee drinking days.  I devoured the dessert mixing the mascarpone cream in with each bite, just to balance the richness of the chocolate.  I could see why this was considered a wicked dessert!

Given we'd had no idea where we were going to end up for dinner and had no idea what we wanted to eat, it turned out to be a surprising way to end the week.  You want to hope that going to such a refined restaurant will give you such a wonderful meal, but it doesn't always work out that way.  It was almost a faultless meal with the only exception being the fried calzone at the beginning, which were just not to the same standard of the rest of the meal.

It stayed pretty quiet the whole time we were at Tartufo, with only a handful of tables filled, which seemed unusual.  While the restaurant was fairly quiet, there was a stead stream of diners at the pizzeria section and the pizza oven seemed to be getting a decent workout.  Perhaps it was a smart move to dedicate some of the restaurant space to pizza, which is quick and much cheaper to produce.

The service was impeccable, as usual and our waiter professional and engaging.  It was unfortunate that it was a little quiet as the atmosphere was a little dampened as a consequence.  The space at Tartufo can really come alive when packed and I kind of missed that edgy vibe.  We really enjoyed our meal and so we're on a positive ledger with our visits to Tartufo, two really lovely meals to one not so good.  We'll definitely be back soon, mainly to check out the pizzeria.  I'm thinking that I might just pick up a superb margarita.....  Looking forward to that!

That superb risotto.  I loved the scallops and the rice was wonderful and full of creamy flavour

The panna cotta was beautiful, a work of art on the plate

mmmm, thats new!  Must be an Italian thing

Tartufo is now a restaurant and a pizza place - check it out

Ristorante Tartufo on UrbanspoonTartufo Ristorante + Bar

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