Tartufo Restaurant Fast Becoming Tenleytown Favorite
Tartufo Restaurant quietly opened in Tenleytown at the end of September, but already is creating quite a buzz with local diners who are giving its Italian cuisine glowing reviews.
Owner Abdihamid Ahmed – know to his patrons as Abdi – says he had been wanting “to bring really great Italian food to the neighborhood, and create a place where people can spend time with family, friends, and colleagues.” When Casa Fiesta closed its doors earlier this year he found his opportunity. He took over the former Latin restaurant, giving it a needed facelift both inside and out and crafting a new menu drawing upon northern and southern Italian influences. Located at 4910 Wisconsin Avenue, Tartufo joins a block with international flair, adding to its mix of French, Indian, Thai – and now Italian – cuisine.
A 25-year veteran of the restaurant business, Abdi got his start at DeCarlo’s Restaurant in Spring Valley, working his way up from busboy to general manager – and building a loyal following along the way. When we mention Tartufo, some residents have not yet heard of the restaurant. However, as soon as we tell them Abdi is the proprietor, their faces light up invariably exclaiming “we love Abdi!”
In an era of fast casual restaurants and hipster establishments, Abdi is a bit of a throwback. He takes pride in being old-fashioned – in getting to know his patrons personally, understanding the community, and gradually building his business. When asked why Tartufo did not have a grand opening event to announce its arrival in Tenleytown, Abdi smiled and said he preferred to spend time with his diners getting their feedback to make sure everything was just right rather than planning a big opening. His priority is service over splashy events.
Abdi attributes his success over the years to “listening to people and finding out what’s missing” in their dining experience. “I actually like it when people criticize me,” says Abdi, “because it makes me better.”
Joining him in his venture are Chefs Bertillio Urrutia and Gary Wiggan. A friend of Abdi’s for more than two decades, Urrutia previously was a chef at Cafe Italia and later opened a family restaurant, which is now run by his brother. He also is a veteran of DeCarlo’s, as is Wiggan. Don’t worry, this migration of talent from DeCarlo’s is not a sign of problems at that restaurant. Abdi speaks fondly of DeCarlo’s, saying it is still going strong; he was just ready to open his own establishment.
Entering Tartufo, it is evident that the restaurant is a reflection of Abdi. The warm wood tones and simple but elegant decor lend a welcoming vibe to this slightly upscale space. Gone is the dated drop ceiling, and the extra height makes the restaurant feel more open without sacrificing coziness. An updated heating and cooling system has transformed the formerly drafty front dining area into a comfortable place to enjoy a meal all year round. The two dining rooms easily seat 70 people, with an additional four seats at the rear bar. The upstairs is still undergoing some renovations, but will be available soon for private parties.
But where Tartufo really shines is – as it should be – in its food. After dining there with a friend a few days ago, we are already planning a return visit.
To begin we shared the Bocconcini Mozzarella, a light, fresh appetizer of mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, prosciutto, and micro arugula, dressed with basil, oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. The clean flavors paired with the recommended Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna wine – a reasonably priced white that has been described as “sunshine in a glass” – was a strong start to the meal.
The ravioli that followed was savory with a rich artichoke and goat cheese filling accompanied by a bright sauce of roasted tomatoes, shallots, basil and olive oil, but absent the heaviness sometimes associated with ravioli. The Salmone Pescatore was perfectly cooked with a hint of lemon, and the accompanying mussels and clams were beyond tender, almost melting in the mouth. The fish came with a side of pasta, which while good was really not necessary for the dish. We left it largely untouched, focusing instead on the salmon.
After the meal we couldn’t help but be tempted by the dessert offerings, selecting the tiramisu and a chocolate mousse cake. Both were lovely, light and just sweet enough – the perfect ending to a meal that left us pleasantly satiated.
We weren’t alone in being impressed by Tenleytown’s newest restaurant. The positive buzz around Tartufo attracted a full house on a Friday evening, and there was even a slight wait to get a table as the night wore on. If there were one area where Tartufo is still working out the kinks, it would be the pace of service as the dining room fills. While we had very attentive service when we sat down for our meal around 6:00 p.m., we could tell the staff was struggling as more diners came in. Those at a neighboring table complained, albeit good naturedly, of a long wait for their drinks and appetizers – a complaint echoed by others. A new restaurant can be forgiven some missteps as it finds its rhythm, especially when it serves quality food, but we hope Tartufo adds staff to keep up with its growing popularity.
If you haven’t tried Tartufo yet, we heartily recommend that you do. And if you have had the pleasure, well then we know we’ll see you there again soon.
Tartufo is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday from 11:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. until 10:45 p.m., and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. A happy hour with small plate specials is available during the week from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. Reservations can be made by calling 202-243-1071, though walk-ins are also welcome.