Resolved to Eat Classier? Check Out Cafe Tarantin’s Truffle Pasta

Holiday presents have already been opened AND returned, you’ve packed on some healthy holiday weight, and your wallet’s seriously hurting. No more decadent meals, you think, but I’m here to ruin your New Year Resolutions! Oh, and if you don’t like truffle (the mushroom kind), you can just stop reading now.

This homey cafe doesn’t have signage beyond a simple sidewalk sandwich board. The reflective windows don’t really help passersby see what’s inside, either. Compound that with being just off of 8th Ave with a large pizzeria on the corner, and Cafe Tarantin flies well under the radar, whether that’s their intention or not. In any case, I’m thankful Cafe Tarantin hasn’t been discovered by the masses of tourists (or most midtowners for that matter). The cafe may not have that many items under the $10 budget, but one dish, the Tartufo pasta, makes up for all that.

You might look at the bowl of pasta and think, how the hell is this gonna fill me up?! But believe me, once you get more than halfway, you realize, the penne and heavy creamy sauce packs a punch. No, the pasta’s not some al dente perfection, but it’s pretty good, and only needs to be the perfect vehicle for the truffle oil and sauce. If you want extra cheesiness, just request some parmesan, and they’ll provide a small cup to sprinkle on.

I’ve been going for almost a year, and Cafe Tarantin used to have their tartufo right at the $10 mark, but recently upped their pasta prices by $.50. Can I round down? Either way, where else are you going to get truffle anything for lunch within ML budget?? Maybe if you bring your own bottle of truffle oil to work…

If pasta isn’t enough comfort for your post-holiday slump, the exposed brick, warm lighting, and good-natured servers make this place feel like a retreat from Midtown. The rest of the menu seems to be a mix of healthy Mediterranean dishes (everyone seems to order the salads with a salmon filet added on top), but not too adventurous. Plus during my late afternoon meal, most clientele seem to stop for a coffee from their Marzocco machine, so Tarantin might have a decent rendition for you caffeine-lovers.

It may be tempting to burrow at one of their small tables/booths, but I think the best seats in the house are at the bar, along the floor-to-ceiling window frontage. From there you can watch the midtown frenzy pass by while you’re enveloped in the warm atmosphere of the Village or Brooklyn. But then look up, and you’ll realize there’s a professional dance studio across the way with large windows. (Try not to stare TOO intently/creepily.) If you’re lucky, you can catch the ballet dancers practicing their jetes in unison, the kind of surreal moment that makes me love this city, especially during holiday season withdrawl.

Just a warning that this place is not meant for groups larger than 4…heck even 2, really. You might as well be in West Village. You’ll have better luck outside the lunch rush, or getting your order to-go. But then you might not get a free croissant from a friendly (or suspecting?) server…

The + (Truffles make anything better)
+ Tartufo Pasta
+ Warm, inviting atmosphere
+ Dance studio across the way

The – (I hate truffles and hipsters)
- Not enough choices under budget at this place
- What’s to like about creamy mushroom or pasta?
- Not much seating during lunch rush

Cafe Tarantin, 302 West 38th Street (btw. 8+9th)


  • I did resolve to be classier in 2015…

    Will use mother-of-pearl opera viewing glasses instead of my usual night vision binoculars to scope the dance studio


    The “grateful for tuesday content” edition

  • Truffle oil? yuck, may as well pour perfume over the pasta, truffle oil is not truffles, big difference.

    • If it’s the terrible lavender-and-white monstrosity, sure. And I’m not convinced it isn’t that in this case, but there are actual truffle oils out there that are really truffle-based.

      • Nope, there is no oil to extract, and real truffles are hard to come by, it would be madness to destroy a pile of them to try and make an oil, and worth less money.

        Truffle oil is perfume and no respectable foody/cook would ever use the stuff.

      • Meaning, I’ve seen expensive “truffle oil”, which is, yes, a neutral oil with truffle in it (i.e. truffle-based), and much richer and earthier (and truffle-filled) than the one Ma gave me which sits in the cupboard never to be used. It’s not something I have seen a need for, and it’s unlikely to be what this restaurant uses.

        The ones that say “essence” or “flavor” are garbage, and probably just common mushrooms.

      • I for one welcome the new upscale direction of ML in 2015. Have any of you tried the $65 tasting menu for lunch at Petrossian? Is is simply divine but the caviar sampling is a tad small.

      • Is that the place what got them fancy Fito-cornpone pate?

  • Was just here for lunch and will say that the tartufo pasta (menu price $11) was well worth it. Coupled it with a cup or Earl Grey. Co-worker had the schnitzel sandwhich with fries. Total check came to under $30 not including tip. Will add this to the rotation when in the mood for “slightly out of bounds ML price lunch”

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