Trattoria Il Mulino recently moved into the Hilton Hotel in Downtown Nashville. The Il Mulino brand originated in New York, ranging from casual to upscale. Trattoria Il Mulino is defined as Italian casual chic and can also be found in Orlando, Atlantic City, and New York.
There is much confusion about what an Italian restaurant is or ought to be, and that has much to do with childhood experiences and travel. Unlike San Francisco and New York, Nashville is not an Italian centric town when it comes to food. Often when looking for Italian food, one camp is looking for spaghetti and meatballs and one camp is looking for a more modern take on Italian food.
I was very curious as to what a New York Italian restaurant would think Nashville wants. More modern chic Italian? Old school Italian?
Trattoria Il Mulino is more of a New York Italian restaurant, a bit old school, and a bit modern day, casual enough to be a last minute decision, fancy enough to celebrate, as while there are some entrees as high as $45, there are pizza and ricotta meatball options, something for every one.
My first experience with Il Mulino was at a private food press dinner for bloggers. Our party of six was escorted to a round table in the middle of the dining room, where we had a partial view of the busy kitchen. The food was good, the service great and the kitchen just a little bit too slow. A popular concert and crazy traffic for a Thursday night presented some problems for a restaurant that had only been open for one week. We loved the food, and before writing about it, I decided to give them some time and return after everyone had a chance to understand how downtown Nashville rolls.
It’s only fair to give a new restaurant two months before I write about them. The grand opening was March 30, and we returned to a spectacular meal on May 30th.
We are so glad we returned! We went on a Saturday night of our anniversary weekend, walking in happy and leaving even happier, enjoying a well-rounded experience of atmosphere, food, drink, and service.
We sat on the outdoor patio, and on nice summer nights, this is the way to go. You will have added entertainment watching the people (mostly tourists) get their “Nashville” on. It’s a lot of fun! There is also a small outdoor bar in addition to the large indoor bar.
The house has over 190 wines, but I looked forward to ordering my favorite of their signature cocktails, the New Old Fashioned. It’s nice how they understand a Nashville restaurant HAS to have a special version of one of this town’s favorite drinks.
The New Old Fashioned, is made with smoked oranges and brandy soaked cherries. The bartender gave me instructions on how I could make it at home, and I plan to share that soon. This is one great drink.
The wine list is extensive, with a good selection of Italian wines. We ordered a chianti riserva for dinner, which tasted like cherries in a very good way and made perfect sense on a warm summer evening.
The chef sent us a starter especially prepared for us, which was so good, and it put a lot of pressure on subsequent courses.
Scallops with fennel and Benton’s Bacon, Arugula, Pesto Aoili.
On both visits, we had Eggplant Appetizer and Sopresetta, leaving not a bite.
When the breadbasket comes around, it is hard to resist. I indulged myself more than I usually do. The foccaccia is delicate and has zing to it. The bread is addicting, and the Italian herbed corn bread totally surprised me. I am impressed that the chef has decided to incorporate a little South into the menu with the cornbread.
The appetizer we chose as a starter was watermelon with burrata. It was delicate, cold, rich, creamy, and delightful. I will order this every time I see it on the menu and don’t be surprised to see me make a version of this. Watermelon rightfully needs to find itself in more savory dishes.
Mr. Spinach Tiger is fixated on the gnocchi with bolognese sauce, and we asked for a half order to share. The nice touch was the bechemel sauce, making this quite an authentic Northern Italian dish. Bolognese is more of a meat sauce with some tomato as opposed to tomato with meat. My best version can be found here and my homemade gnocchi here.
James, our server, was a highlight of our evening for many reasons. He was extremely knowledgeable about food, wine, and restaurants in general. James is a true professional who really knows how to turn dinner into an occasion, paying attention to every detail. He convinced us to get the specials of the night and he was so right.
I had the Veal Osso Bucco over Risotto Milanese. This was a huge treat for me, because this is not a dish that is offered in Nashville typically, and if it is, it’s sold out quickly. The portion was so meaty that I took a good portion home and ate the leftovers in two sittings. It was tender and man-sized, and I feel sorry for the 13th person who tried to order it, because they only had 12 portions available.
On the first evening we visited, I had the veal chop. I will always order a veal chop if it’s on the menu, unless of course, there’s osso bucco. This was prepared with sage leaves and rosemary roasted potatoes. Tender and savory, this reminded me of the veal chop I had in Rome.
Mr. ST ordered the halibut, which was grilled, and prepared with vegetables in such a creative way. The portion was quite large and we took half of that home. It looks like a bit of a mess of a presentation, but it was a very interesting blend of flavors and a unique preparation. He loved it.
On another visit, he ordered the branzino. The menu does something unique. It offers you a choice of sauces for the seafood. We can’t remember which sauce this is. It has olives, capers, and greens and is very Mediterranean in flavor, one of my favorite ways to eat fish.
There are, of course, several pasta dishes on the menu, including vegan and gluten free options. The menu is varied enough that there is something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a multi-course upscale dinner or just a light bite.
The desserts are quite special, especially if you’re Italian.
The ricotta cheesecake is Italian style with amaretto notes and reminds me of a particular Italian pastry I used to eat a child.
The limoncello tiramisu is captivating and delivers big on comfort, lemon and creaminess. The cake layers are light, and divided by a sweet lemony cream (not too sweet).
On both visits to Il Mulino Trattoria, the wait staff was over the top in making us feel at home and well taken care of, in the way the smaller New York restaurants do with their regulars. It’s not hipster nor pretentious. It’s not old school nor old fashioned either. It strikes a nice balance for tourists, conventioneers or locals looking for some good Italian food.
I pay close attention to the tables around me, because as a blogger in a small city like Nashville, I’m probably going to get good service, but I’m interested to see how others are treated. The food and service at the tables around me was just as sharp, and the diners clearly were enjoying their food.
Dedicated Valet Parking is available at the 5th Ave. South entrance (shared with the Palm). You will want to use this valet on 5th Ave. South, not the Hilton Hotel entrance on 4th Ave.
Disclosure: Both dinners were complimentary and part of a press event. All opinions are my own. I can recommend Trattoria Il Mulino with confidence. Please see this page for my restaurant review guidelines.
144 Fifth Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37023
Located at the Hilton Nashville Downtown
(Enter on 5th for Valet Parking)
Reservations: 615 620 3700