Eating Nashville: New Gulch restaurant left us searching for a lost shaker of salt

The hot new-ish Italian restaurant in the Gulch has swiftly become a popular dining destination, but we think it could use a visit from Salt Bae

Brad Schmitt Mackensy Lunsford
Nashville Tennessean
  • Luogo is among the newer celebrity-driven restaurants in Nashville
  • The Gulch restaurant promises a neighborhood vibe and authentic Italian
  • Brad and Mackensy have no problems with the vibe. The food? It's missing something

Eating Nashville is The Tennessean's new column in which food writer Mackensy Lunsford and food eater Brad Schmitt frequently butt heads about Nashville's new culinary hot spots.

Pappardelle with duck ragu at Luogo restaurant in the Gulch in Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 13, 2022

Mack: So many new downtown restaurants have big names behind them. Luogo, Italian for "place," is the latest. This venue comes to the Gulch from Anthony Scotto, a New York restaurateur who has relocated to Nashville.

Luogo, his first venture outside of the Big Apple, seemed like a safe bet. Glowing early online reviews praise the restaurant's presentation and service. Italian food is almost always a hit. The general public likes its carbs. Who am I to argue? Carbs are awesome, as long as they have some salt.

But first things first.

The best part of this meal was our charming server who knew the menu inside and out. He seemed to approve of our apps: a grilled Caesar salad and Faroe Island salmon tartare, described on the menu as coming with avocado and Calabrian vinaigrette. That all sounded great. And, well, Brad?

The grilled Caesar salad, foreground, and Faroe Island Salmon Tartare at Luogo restaurant in Nashville Dec. 13, 2022

Brad: Blech! That Caesar salad was a bunch of wilted lettuce drenched in lemon juice. Soooo disappointing. And the salmon tartare? Mushy, flavorless fish.

We had high hopes for this place: Nashville certainly could use another quality Italian restaurant. The starters launched a nightlong refrain from you and me βˆ’ "Where's the salt?!?" 😟 (This, P.S., is where Mack introduced me to a YouTube character called "Salt Bae.")

Mack: Yes, I was begging for a visit from Salt Bae right off the bat, and not because I think he's attractive. But first: Brad, no. That Romaine was grilled appropriately. But the lemon zest overwhelmed everything. If there was anchovy in that dressing, I couldn't detect anything beyond the citrus. Can we please end this trend of downplaying anchovy in Caesar dressing? More (any?) anchovy could have added much-needed flavor.

As for the tartare, the fish itself was not necessarily mushy, but the entire dish needed more texture. The avocado was mashed like guac. Frankly, I like even my guacamole to have more backbone.

Brad: To the entrees! My head turned every time a server walked by with a sumptuous-looking 16-ounce grilled veal chop. The bone end was parked on a whole onion. Adorable! But, uh, well, very little flavor in those 16 ounces, which, BTW, cost $62. 😲

And here's a near miss that broke my heart. (Am I being dramatic? Perhaps a touch.)

The pappardelle with duck ragu had a rich, tangy tomato sauce with succulent duck confit. A really wonderful dish that was missing β€” you guessed it β€” salt.

16-ounce-grilled veal chop with a wild mushroom chianti sauce at Luogo restaurant in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2022

Mack: I'm going to go out on a limb here and repeat what I said while still at the table at Luogo. The general public ruins everything. I'm joking, but what I mean is that the people who hate aggressively flavored food are often not shy about sharing their opinions. And sometimes that means restaurants respond by toning down the flavor. I'm not positive that's what happened here, but it did seem intentional because everything across the board was so meekly seasoned. That's putting it, no pun intended, mildly.

Those noodles were perfect, by the way. They just had. No. Salt.

Uh, the wine was great though.

Brad: You 100% intended that pun. 100% intentional punning.

If you go

What: Luogo is an Italian restaurant by veteran restaurateur Anthony Scotto. It opened in the Gulch area of Nashville in November.

Where: 211 12th Avenue S.

How much? For dinner, appetizers start at $12 for soup and top off at $35 for the frito misto. Entrees start at $25 for the Garganelli Triolese. The most expensive entree is the veal chop at $62. It's sauced but without sides, which range from $12-14.

Contact and other important info: www.luogorestaurant.com

Have you been to Luogo? What did you think? And where should Mackensy and Brad go next? Brad's at brad@tennessean.com and Mackensy is at mlunsford@southernkitchen.com.