It's barely 5pm and Rachelle and I are watching the sun set on the shitty view of downtown Dartmouth that we have from our table in Il Trullo. We have been seated on the drab side of the almost-empty restaurant, with a view of the ass-side of residential downtown Dartmouth with its industrial buildings, train tracks and lazy, meandering ducks. The Halifax skyline sits in inky relief on the other side of the building. I can practically hear the diners over there sighing as the sun sinks behind Citadel Hill.
Il Trullo itself is a very pretty restaurant, bright and modern in a way that will delight your mom. Whites and creamy notes are highlighted with surges of blue that play nicely against the harbour. There is a hut-like curve to the ceiling above featured tables in the centre of the room, a cute nod to the restaurant name, which refers to conical huts in Puglia.
With a plate of olives and a basket of focaccia al pomodoro to give us strength, we peruse the wine list, which has all of the standard cabs, pinots and merlots. We decide on a half-litre of Rivera Salice Salentino ($24). We are rewarded with a "good choice!" upon order, told that it's the owner's favourite. It's very drinkable with a dusky, full fruit flavour. It is a nice discovery.
We share the insalata Cesare ($13), an interesting take on the classic Caesar. It is, notably, the farthest the restaurant could get from Rocco's famed tableside salad of yore. (Perhaps fitting, since Rocco Scarola is reportedly no longer involved with the restaurant.) A mix of frisée, romaine, arugula and parsley has been tossed in a tangy black pepper vinaigrette, topped with shaved parmigiano-reggiano and twisted sheets of prosciutto crudo, sprinkled with crispy focaccia croutons and fried capers. The plate is dotted with garlic sauce and marinated grape tomatoes. It's a vibrant, flavourful salad, the highlight of the meal.
The tomatoes, which offer a bright pop of sweet acidity that I won't ever tire of, also show up with the calamari arrabbiata ($13). The squid is just OK—the sauce has a nice bite to it, but the batter is a bit pallid and mushy. There is some pointless parsley strewn on top, a shrug of a garnish that finds its way onto almost every plate of the night.
On the gnocchi ($17), I imagine the parsley had instead been lightly fried to offer a more delicate contrast of texture, perhaps replacing the curly chewiness of the kale. With the kale, a pile of walnuts, sheets of pecorino romano and a dusting of nutmeg, the dish is almost exhaustingly nutty. The handmade gnocchi, itself very well-made, and the delicate, buttery sauce it sits in, are Eve Harrington'd out of the spotlight they deserve by this tornado of ingredients.
The ravioli ($21), conversely, is incredibly simple. The ragu sauce, with its tomato-pasty flatness, seems to be the simple red sauce from the focaccia with a bit of meaty heft added and a few of the marinated cherry tomatoes tossed in for good measure. The ravioli are nicely formed and have a simple, but tasty, filling of ricotta and spinach. It's covered with sheets of parmigiano-reggiano. And, of course, out of some kind of assembly-line obligation, parsley.
We finish our meals with cappuccino ($4) and a silky, rich olive oil cake with light smooth lavender panna cotta ($9) and a moist, dense carrot cake with punchy orange Creamsicle ice cream ($12). Both desserts are beautifully made, exceptionally high notes on which to end the meal.
Il Trullo offers some interesting innovation added to traditional Italian dishes, but there needs to be a bit of editing and refinement before it's a truly great restaurant.
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