Let me tell you about a little authentic Italian joint right in the middle of Old Town Cluj Napoca. Yep, that’s right… in Romania.
I was a little hesitant to even visit Tortelli because I was unsure of how this ‘Italian’ would be any different from any other I’ve had.
From the outside it looked nice enough but it didn’t really drag me in; in fact it was my husband who convinced me, and I’m pretty glad he did.
Upon entry it’s a small establishment, but done basically enough to be genius for its needs. The main sign on the back wall reads Tortelli; with a lick of paint and dried pasta glued to the wall. Yep, you read that right – dried pasta glued to the walls. When you read it you may think it sounds lame, but honestly when you see it you understand the sheer brilliance behind it. Something so basic, imaginative, and cost effective, stands out like a sore thumb and almost becomes the main center of visual viewing for the restaurant.
Next up is the pasta; all of the pasta is homemade fresh. I’d heard this many times before at other restaurants but I’d never really paid any attention to how fresh it actually tastes. I mean, yeah it’s fresh, but is it ‘fresh’ fresh. I never thought there was really any difference; now I know there is. All those years of my life that have passed with me eating ‘fresh’ pasta feel like a straight up lie… this pasta was made that day, not yesterday, or the day before… and oh boy, let me tell you how much it can change your life.
Sound crazy? Stay with me, I beg you.
For the starter we ordered a bruschetta to share – extra cheesy! It was divine, and the balsamic with the fresh tomatoes was just as fresh as the pasta. It arrived extremely fast and with neatly positioned presentation.
For my main I ordered the carbonara; which they recommended me to eat along with a nice glass of Chardonnay. Of course I could not refuse; so one Chardonnay and one carbonara it was. My husband ordered a cucumber lemonade; I wasn’t a fan, but maybe you’re into that.
When the carbonara arrived I questioned my choice and wondered if I’d made a mistake. It looked generic, it looked like any other carbonara I’d had, it looked, well, like an Italian pasta dish.
Let me tell you how deceiving that little bowl of pasta was; my goodness. The pasta was freshly made that day, and cooked al dente which gave it a ramen texture – at first I wasn’t sure, but it grew on me. That added crunch, which was so unfamiliar and alien to me at first, grew so much that now I no longer want the common noodle… I want homemade pasta with a crunch, dammit. Sounds stupid right? Well, judge away common pasta lover, you’ll understand one day.
I also worried that I would get bored of that creamy carbonara flavor; there is that old saying that ‘too much of a good thing can be bad’ but the pancetta really broke up the texture of the dish; if I found myself getting sick of the creaminess, I’d add a piece of pancetta to the bite, and that delicious greasy fat would cut through the cream and change the dynamic tenfold. Success!
My husband order a pesto gnocchi, which was so vibrant and beautiful it was appealing to even the most mundane person. They filled it with sunflower seeds to give it a unique twist, and I really think they complimented the homemade pesto incredibly.
At first I thought it would need more sauce, and may be dry, but it definitely wasn’t; the ratio of olive oil to pine nuts and parmigiano Romano was perfection. I finished my carbonara and was honestly thinking about ways I could steal some of my husbands gnocchi to curb my new found craving of that fresh pesto, which was unlike anything I’d ever tasted.
All in all Tortelli was a pleasant surprise. I hold my hands up and admit it was not my first choice, but it was definitely on my radar after this visit. I’m actually pretty angry at myself for just passing it off as a generic Italian, because the amount of love they put into their work really does come out in the end product, and I sincerely apologize for almost overlooking such a gem of a place. It’s pretty spectacular how far effort can go when you take that first bite and taste all the rainbows of fresh ingredients, instead of dried stored ingredients. It’s a win from me, thanks Tortelli. A trip to Italy in all its glory, right here on the streets of Old Town in Cluj Napoca, Romania.
Until next time,