Amongst the hubbub of Manayunk’s fashionable Main Street, sits the cozy and elegant Il Tartufo. This cash-only Italian restaurant was opened in 1997 by Chef and Owner Alberto Delbello. Delbello’s cuisine resembles the famous Tiramisu’ Ristorante on 5th Street in Philadelphia, with its recipes rooted in the cooking of the old Jewish ghettos of Rome.
Jewish Roman cuisine dates back to sixteenth century Italy. Between the 1500’s and 1800’s, separated from the outside world, Jewish housewives were left with limited ingredients, forcing them to be creative when cooking. Inexpensive ingredients such as artichokes, cheeses, fish, and olive oil became the heart of Jewish recipes in Rome. Delbello’s menu adds modern elegance to many of these unique old-world flavors, while still preserving traditional Italian favorites.
Stepping beneath the crimson awnings and through the single glass door of Il Tartufo, the melodic voice of Frank Sinatra resonated around the petite, yet quaint dining area. About eight tables lined the room, simply decorated, yet chic, as the cherry wood furnishings were covered with ivory draping. Atop each table sat a single dimly lit candle. The only additional lighting came from the setting sun, as it shone through the glass panels lining the far side of the dining area—a cozy and relaxing setting. The glass panels offered a nice alternative to dining outdoors, allowing patrons to gaze outside and still enjoy the sights of Main Street. All in all, the dining area carried a casual, yet stylish ambiance.
After a few moments I was greeted by a pleasant hostess dressed in black, who asked for my seating preference: inside or outside. Although I only saw a few occupied tables, the indoor dining area seemed crowded, with most tables squeezed tightly together. The outside area, right along the cobblestone sidewalks of Main Street, appeared more comfortable and just as pleasant, as Frank Sinatra continued to serenade the outdoor diners as well. The gorgeous view of the setting sun and beautiful weather added to my decision to be seated on the patio.
The wine list was simple, offering only three choices for white: a pinot grigio, a chardonnay, and a white zinfandel. All three were offered by the bottle or by the glass. Four red wines were listed, also available by the bottle or by the glass. I ordered a glass of pinot grigio and turned to the menu. Old-world Jewish flavors were scattered throughout the page. Dishes such as the Carciofi Alla Giudia, Jewish style artichokes with garlic and olive oil, and Pesce Misto, a combination of mixed seafood broiled with white wine, bread crumbs, and a fresh oregano sauce, caught my attention. The menu provided great variety with many non-pasta options, an assortment of seafood and meat dishes, along with the traditional Italian pastas such as Gnocchi Pomodoro, Il Tartufo’s homemade potato pasta with tomatoes and basil.
I decided to start with my favorite Italian classic, Mozzarella Il Tartufo: homemade mozzarella topped with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, basil, and a light coating of olive oil. The dish arrived in a timely fashion. In the center of the plate sat a generous slice of fresh mozzarella, served slightly warm, with the roasted red peppers and tomatoes layered thinly over the top. The aroma of fresh basil and olive oil rose from the plate, as both the ingredients lined the outside of the dish. The richness of the house-made cheese and the zest of the roasted red peppers combined for a simple, classic, and delicious appetizer.
I opted for my server’s recommendation for the salad course, Mista di Stagione: a salad incorporating the Chef’s special combination of roasted red peppers, raisins, onions, goat cheese, and pine nuts with an aged vinaigrette dressing. The unique salad combination was beautifully served over a small portion of fresh mixed greens with the goat cheese sprinkled delicately on top. The interesting trio of raisins, roasted red peppers, and onions created a fruity, yet hearty flavor. The goat cheese supplemented the taste with a just a bit of added tang.
My first entrée, Vitello Monte Carlo, was a hefty portion of veal medallions served with apples and arugula in a light brandy cream sauce. A small side of carrots and a polenta cake accompanied the dish. The cream sauce smothered most of the dish, making the pieces of veal hardly visible. Yet the rich cream sauce carried great flavor, accentuated by hints of brandy. Combined with the subtle apple slices, the sauce generously added to the dish. The veal, sliced thin and served lightly breaded then pan-fried, was a little tougher than I would have liked. The polenta cake, although rather small, provided a nice grainy texture that went well alongside the veal and sauce. Three small wedges of carrots added a bit of crunch and touch of color to the mostly beige dish.
The next entrée, Pesce Misto, was, according to my server, quite a popular dish among Il Tartufo’s diners. A colorful visual delight, the dish included scallops, shrimp, tuna, swordfish, and lobster, which were all lightly breaded then broiled with a white wine and oregano sauce. The dish provided a delicious sampling of seafood for the reasonable price of $23. The oregano and white wine sauce did not overpower the dish, as it only enhanced the already delicious flavors of the fresh seafood. The light dusting of breadcrumbs added a delicious crunchy texture to the savory flavor.
After indulging in two gratifying entrées, I turned to the dessert menu. Il Tartufo’s dessert menu contained fresh house-made desserts such as homemade amaretto cheesecake and various sorbets. Some sorbet flavors change seasonally, for example, pumpkin sorbet is only offered in the fall and mango only in the summer months. Also offered on the menu were coffee and fresh espresso drinks. Because all of the desserts were house-made, I decided to go with an Italian favorite, Tiramisu. The fresh mascarpone cheese and espresso- and liquor-soaked ladyfingers came elegantly served with a chocolate and cocoa powder border, with each bite melting into my taste buds.
As I finished my dessert, the sun set on a very enjoyable dinner. A quaint, friendly atmosphere, satisfying dishes, and a check that was wallet-friendly (remember, this is a cash only establishment), left me knowing I would return to Il Tartufo. The restaurant serves as a great, casual end to a day of boutique shopping around Manayunk, or a comfortable laid back setting for a first date.