M Street does it again, and very much to our liking with Moto Cucina Enoteca, the sexy new Italian Restaurant in town. Moto means motion, a nod to the history of the warehouse’s former life as a mechanic’s shop.
I’m not going to call Moto “hipster” because they are far too friendly for that, but trust me, the hipsters will be there, as well as starry eyed couples, families celebrating birthdays, excited tourists, and single mingles sipping wine and looking for someone that is almost as handsome or as fashionable as Moto’s urban decor with a true Italian bent.
Chef Andy Hayes trained in New York City, where he became enamored with Italian food and also trained under Chef Sean Brock (of Husk). No surprise there, as I kept thinking that Moto is the Italian “Husk” of Nashville.
While Chef Brock creates authentic Southern recipes with a modern twist at Husk, Chef Hayes does this same thing with authentic Italian recipes, using creativity and a keen understanding of Italy’s approach to cooking. An example of this was a recent special pizza of the night, cacio e pepe, a take on the Roman pasta dish of Pecorino and Black Pepper, adding in some house made lardo, and topping it with an egg. I could bite into that every day!
Please give Chef Andy Hayes a few minutes of your time in this video, as he explains what Moto Cucina Enoteca is really about and why I think Italy just got a little closer, and watch that pizza get made.
The first thing a guest sees entering Moto is the beautiful glass wine cellar next to a large handsome bar, which features inlaid cut white glass tiles with black accents.
Moto is chic, urban and inviting. In Italy, you see a mix of old and new, and many of the newer restaurants choose both elements or stage a modern design in a very old building. Italy pays attention to fashion and style and it will be noticed often in simple colors and in the materials used. Moto is right in step with Italian design, as the restaurant is beautiful and modern, yet approachable, and the seating is comfortable.
We sat at a large, comfortable booth in the bar area, a great place to people watch. There are several large accommodating booths and a large bar in the front. The main dining area has golden glass between the diners and the kitchen, a fire pit, and a stunning pizza oven with counter, making Moto a cross between Italian fine dining and a place to grab a pizza and a glass of wine.
Lots of windows adorn the front of the restaurant bar area, adding energy, giving diners a view to feel the buzz of people and action outside.
The Wine and Cocktails
Enoteca means Italian wine bar, and there are more than 25 wines by the glass, including an Italian chardonnay, which is a nice alternative. Of course, there are some Super Tuscans, something we discovered we loved while in Italy. We were served two wines, a red and a white. The menu features some fun and some sophisticated cocktails, many with Italian notes. In the summer, I’m going with a Lemoncello Martini, Bellini or the Sicilian Sangria. In the winter, I’m going for the South of Manhattan.
There is no better way to start a meal than with Warmed Duck Fat Olives, garnished with whole garlic, sweeping turns of orange citrus, and hazelnuts. This first bite told us everything we needed to know about the evening. We were in Italy in Nashville, in a very solid way. Italians swoon for olives, and they loving mixing citrus and savory.
The olives were accompanied by focaccia, soft, pillowy, light as a feather. I am not a focaccia lover, because it’s usually dense, and heavy. Everyone loved this bread.
The Pork Cheek Terrine was served with crispy ears, pickled onion and grilled bread. This is rustic food prepared with precision and elegance. Moto goes through a whole pig a week, using every part, in true Italian spirit.
When I returned to make the video, one of the staff had this beautiful cheese in her hands and I just had to capture it. It’s a whole milk Caciocavallo-style cheese called Suffolk Punch cheese from Parish Hill Creamery in Vermont. The rind is edible as it’s rubbed with olive oil and polished. Caciocavallo-style refers to the cheeses tied together to resemble saddle bags.
The Salad. A work of art. Nearly wafer thin vegetables, artfully arranged, with green apple, blue cheese and unique textures. Wow. I’m a salad lover, and will do my best to recreate this one at home with my mandolin.
Oysters, deep fried Apalachicola, flavored with peperonata and preserved fennel. They are as good as they look. Crispy, with a zing from the peperonata, aromatic from the fennel.
The Pizza Course
It was hard to maintain restraint knowing many courses would be following. Moto has a pizza oven and it does its job well. The crust is chewy, crispy and light and the toppings don’t weigh it down. It was perfect.
Kale Pesto, Porchetta, Mozzarella Pizza is every bit as good as it sounds. The Kale pesto is flavorful; we love kale and I can’t wait to try to make a kale pesto.
Mushroom, Shaved White Truffle, Fontina Pizza. If you look closely, you can see the fabulous white truffles, a taste that takes any dish to a new level. Earthy, sweetness, last meal good. Since the crust is so light and delicious, it was easy to eat a little too much.
The Pasta Courses
All pastas are prepared in house and are exceptionally well crafted. Usually a restaurant will make one homemade pasta because it’s quite an undertaking to get beyond paparadelle, the wide egg noodles, but Moto has gone all the way and make at least seven in-house pastas.
Spaghetti with Scallops and Sea Urchin (to die for) was not originally on our tasting menu. It would have been a shame to miss this special, as this might have to be my favorite bite of the night, and that’s saying a lot, since there are other dishes I’m still thinking about.
This was a very well balanced dish. It goes beyond the basics as many flavors and textures come together to make any seafood lover swoon.
Black spaghetti with lobster, Calabrian chilies. These flavors are sultry and the dish is gorgeous to look at, a pleasure to eat.
Gnocchi, salsify, green apple, fonduta. Mr. Spinach Tiger is a huge gnocchi fan. If its on the menu, he’s ordering it and he loved these. They were tender, and the sauce was understated, a true Northern Italian flavor profile. The salsify was shaved thin, adding a unique crispness to the dish, and introducing me to something I’ve never had.
Salsify is a root vegetable belonging to the dandelion family. Leave me a comment if you already knew this. I’ll be impressed as none of us foodies knew.
On our second trip, I got to try the pappardelle verde with braised lamb and it moved to my short list for great. My husband loved the pasta with the sausage. One of the most outstanding dishes in our group was the Prawns and Polenta with crab, lobster and sea urchin. I highly recommend that. I tasted the black pepper tagliatelle and I thought it a bit bland, but this is the dish for people who like a milder pasta. None of us were crazy for the blueberry lasagna. Get that as a shard appetizer, not an entree, as there are so many more wow dishes to eat at Moto.
If you’re not in the mood for Italian food, you can order Wagyu filet, a dry aged bone in ribeye, a veal chop or lamb, Moto gets its steaks and chops the same place as Kayne Prime, a sister restaurant, which is very good news for the serious meat lover. There are also several kinds of meatballs, including lamb meat balls that I’m excited to try. On a return trip, a friend had the Wagyu filet and he thought it was the best of his life.
Chicken Saltimboca prepared with kale and pancetta. The chicken was tender and this dish was not heavy, just full of flavor, but I think at this point we were all too full to eat much more. There are, however, a lot more exciting dishes to get from Moto. I’d put this one on the long list.
Roasted Potatoes were prepared with truffles and taleggio and were earthy, flavorful, addicting. I don’t have a picture of the potatoes, but they were a worthy dish, Italian peasant food at its best, made extra rich from the cheese.
The Brussels Sprouts pancetta, apple agrodolce. After kale, I’m a huge Brussels Sprouts fan, so I asked how these were made. They are cut in half, put in frying pan with pancetta and the apple agrodolce (an Italian sweet and sour sauce) and cooked long enough to be quite tender. They were soft and caramelized and probably the best Brussels sprouts I’ve ever eaten. (The picture does not do justice). Do not leave Moto without trying the Brussels Sprouts, even if you think you don’t like them. You will be converted.
While I still believe that Dessert is the most overlooked course in Nashville’s restaurants, we all gave a resounding applause for the Meyer Lemon Cream Budino, served with semolina short bread and homemade pistachio biscotti. Chef Andy was gracious enough to give me the recipe and I’ll let you know about it if it turns out as well as his.
The biscotti is very Italian tasting, not too sweet, with a homemade type crumb. I’m hoping as time goes on, they will make my favorite dessert, butterscotch budino (please).
Chocolate Tiramisu with an amaretto gelee, chocolate cake, mascarpone mousse and a cookie crumble. This will satisfy anyone’s chocolate craving.
On our way out, we had a peak at the party room, which has brick walls, a built in bar and will accommodate up to 40 people. So perfect for rehearsal dinners, corporate dinners and Christmas parties.
Adjoining Moto is the M Street Event Venue, the Rosewall. It’s so hot, sexy and cool that I’m expecting to see a scene from the hit show Nashville…you know the kind of parties I’m talking about. Yes, it’s fully set up for music, and also has a bar and lots of drapery for “reveal” purposes.
After looking at the menu of Moto Cucina Enoteca, I aim to try everything on the menu, especially that blueberry mushroom lasagna, the pork belly ravioli and all the meatballs.
We were sent home with delicious homemade biscotti, and a gift certificate to any M Street restaurant, and I’ve made a return reservation for a special birthday dinner. I’ve written about M Street restaurants before, as they are stellar. The Tavern has my favorite burger, and Virago does for Japanese what Moto does for Italian. Still looking forward to margaritas at St. Anejo and steak at Kayne Prime.
Our first dinner was complimentary, and there was no obligation to write about it. My review is authentic. My kind words for Moto are sincere. We returned for a second dinner that we paid for, which was outstanding.
Moto Cucina Enoteca is open 7 days a week, for dinner only, starting at 5:00. p.m.
Located in the Gulch at 1120 McCavock, Nashville.
Call for reservations: 615.736.5305