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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: La Pietra Cucina

Spicy Calabrese sausage "dip"

Spicy Calabrese sausage "dip"

If you like Italian food, and you have the resources for a reasonably expensive meal and you’ve never been to La Pietra Cucina, then you must rectify that situation right away.

I’m not going to go so far as to say La Pietra is the best Italian restaurant in the city (it’s too weird for that distinction) but it is the most original. Some of the food here — particularly the pastas — will put you in that yummy-yummy rapture place. That place where you make little grunts, snorts and ululations ulululations of non-verbal approbation. I love that place.

Chef Bruce Logue trained at Babbo — the Greenwich Village restaurant that turned Mario Batali into a superstar. If you’ve ever eaten at Babbo, you will recognize both the spirit of edgy hominess as well as some the dishes. But Logue is no copycat: his food shows a personality all his own, which is why I have appreciated  (if not particularly liked) the several near-misses I’ve eaten here. I keep going back to see what he’s up to.

Set in the too-big Peshing Point space that was MidCity Cuisine (and Angelo & Maxie’s before that), La Pietra takes a new crack at warming up this sterile square footage that would have been a bank lobby had it gone looking for a tenant in 1985. Cameron Stewart Design of Charleston has come up with, well, I’m not quite sure what they’ve come up with.

The Web site claims “the interior exudes warmth with comfortable style. Bathed in earthy tones ranging from the Pompeian red upholstered walls to the gold velvet armchairs and rich brown leather banquettes, the dining room atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming.”

Relaxed and welcoming if you’re Catherine di Medici. I might call the design motif  “Renaissance cruelty,” with its air of blood-red opulence and its scary portraits of bejeweled and feathered women in poofy gowns giving the cold fisheye. “Don’t you dare eat that pasta,” they seem to be saying.

Buzz off, ladies. The pastas are the best thing going here. Hand-cut fettuccine comes with cubes of slow-cooked rabbit, pancetta and a flurry of fried parsnip chips that you mix into the noodles for that ephemeral crunch-sog texture of a really good bowl of cereal. An ideally seasoned and concentrated meat jus (coating but not sticky) melds the flavors into one great meta-flavor.

The black spaghtetti with rock shrimp, scallions and hot calabrese sausage is also quite the mouthful of omigod, but I will point out this a reworked Babbo dish and the version I had in New York came out steaming hot — the right temperature for the red oil of a sauce. The pasta at La Pietra (as well as an otherwise great chickpea and octopus soup) needed an eddy of steam to bring the flavors home.

And speaking of calabrese sausage, I love the appetizer of sausage “dip” (pictured above) with sauteed vegetable spears to swipe through. Once I ran out of vegetable spears, I found the house grissini breadsticks (made with so much parmesan they seem on the verge of coming out as cheese straws) did the job. When I had no more breadsticks, my index finger jumped right in. That good.

So I wish I’ve found some entrees to like better. Pretty little medallions of lamb sirloin set over roasted cauliflower came with a tiara of fried parsnip strands that were just annoying in this context. Again, the food was too cold and sauceless when we got it. I’m thinking the ladies in the portraits would approve of some nice cloches to cover the plates on their way to the tables.

A fish brodetto with “shrimp gnudi” (clever little plugs of springy, tender shrimp mousse) and sea beans features a sea-deep tomato broth with, again, perfect pitch. But it had no presence in the bowl. The three kinds of fish cubes seemed indistinguishable from each other and the gnudi, and the thick broth had too many bits of limp vegetable and whatnot milling about. I really appreciate Logue’s instinct to keep the food’s rustic bona fides, but I think he could have fancied this up a bit (strained the broth, served larger chunks of fish) and had a peerless fish soup.

Our dessert, called “Huckleberry bavarese with dark toffee” turned out to be a martini glass filled with straited goo. Not my thing.

But those pastas. Madonna. I can’t think about them and not want to start planning my next visit.

Have you been? Do you find the food exciting, if a little uneven, as well? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

24 comments Add your comment

ML

November 4th, 2009
3:25 pm

Love the food here — pastas remind me of being in Italy.
Glad you’re back writing about restaurants.

top chef fanatic

November 4th, 2009
3:29 pm

havent been ther JK but Italian is my favorite cuisine to cook and eat , It seems like this place may be one or two gnocchis short on this bowl. I mean with Italian the sauce is everything and proper tempature is key for me on any meal. I am just gonna have to think about the North End in Boston Davios and do like Dorothy ATL version and say…..theres no place like home:)

have a blessed day

[...] 30 Restaurants in 30 Days: La Pietra Cucina | Food and More with … November 4th, 2009 | Author: admin I mean with Italian the sauce is everything and proper tempature is key for me on any meal. I am just gonna have to think about the North End in Boston Davios and do like Dorothy ATL version and say…..theres no place like home:) … Read the original: 30 Restaurants in 30 Days: La Pietra Cucina | Food and More with … [...]

Linda

November 4th, 2009
4:29 pm

websites, addresses, phone numbers. Many of us are new in the area.

Darin

November 4th, 2009
4:41 pm

Hi Linda, welcome to the area. The very first mention of the restaurant name in this post is a hyperlink to all the info you need. Here’s the URL behind the hyperlink:
http://entertainment.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-ga/venues/show/1108840-la-pietra-cucina

When La Pietra Cucina was in it’s original, abbreviated space I thought the room was too bland for the food. Now the room is just off putting and stilted in a way that doesn’t flow with the food. Weird. Maybe I’m just too hard to please.

I’ve mostly been here for lunch and I’ve liked or loved everything I’ve eaten. I agree that the pastas are the best things on the menu. I had a wild boar ragu special over black pasta one time for dinner that was amazing, The pizzas at lunch are strangely unimpressive — especially when you consider Atlanta as a recent (and unlikely) haven for traditional Napoli pizza places.

Jason Greene

November 4th, 2009
4:50 pm

The food is excellent. I like La Pietra better, when it was just a small space, eating out on the patio, no sign, and people driving by, wondering why we are eating, there’s no restaurant there! :) Too garish inside now. But the food, it’s only a two block walk from my home in Brookwood.

Sabrina

November 4th, 2009
5:24 pm

Delicious food, wonderful presentation, excellent service. Great night out and well worth the money!

DB

November 4th, 2009
5:26 pm

All you have to do is mention Mario Batali and I will get there soon.I love your new pic Mr. Kessler, now I know why you look so happy. We are so thrilled to have you back in your current capacity, long overdue !!! You are loved, and were missed.

NativeAtlantan

November 4th, 2009
5:29 pm

good Lord Linda — ever heard of Google?

JM

November 4th, 2009
5:33 pm

ulululations of non-verbal approbation.??……

Mr.Restaurant Reviewer:

Please spell correctly where when we have no clue what you are writing, we can at least look it up in the dictionary….or maybe try not to impress us with your vast vocabulary.

BobDog

November 4th, 2009
5:43 pm

We really enjoyed La Pietra back during the summer. I think it would be even better now with the cool weather.

It is almost as good Italian food as Sotto Sotto. Almost. And that is saying a lot.

Mario

November 4th, 2009
6:06 pm

Welcome back and yes I’ve been several times. Would love to know who is cooking better Italian food in the city of Atlanta and putting more heart and soul into their dishes?…if this is not the best…I really need to know who is, because I’m missing out on something that must be beyond spectacular!

John Kessler

November 4th, 2009
7:52 pm

Thanks, JM. Serves me right.

Lisa

November 4th, 2009
8:45 pm

I need to start a list of places to try. ps, are you planning on thirty diet plans in 30 days next?

JM

November 5th, 2009
9:39 am

JK:

I apologize…my mother would not be proud of me. I enjoy your reviews and expand my vocabulary at the same time.

John Kessler

November 5th, 2009
11:03 am

no worries, JM! I, too, am bothered by bloggers who don’t do the courtesy of a simple spell check before posting. I am also overly fond of interesting words and have a weakness for shoehorning them in my copy. Thanks, and I’m glad you’re reading.

Mike G

November 5th, 2009
2:07 pm

John, So glad to have you back on the beat in a big way. Babbo is my favorite restaurant. One of my favorite dishes there is the black spaghetti with the chili and rock shrimp. Simply amazing. I will now be at Pietra Cucina as soon as possible to check out as many of their pastas as I can take. Also, I realize this relates to another post, but love Abattoir. The lardo croutons and anything in the “jar” section is great. This is now my “go to” blog on restaurants in ATL. You have lots of posts, and they’re dense… that’s a compliment. Lots of great content. Keep it up!

John Kessler

November 5th, 2009
4:42 pm

Thanks, Mike. And, Linda, I promise never to leave you in hyperlink limbo. Welcome to town. Let me know what kinds of restaurants you’re looking for, and I’d be happy to point you to some of my faves.

italia-oni stalli-oni

November 5th, 2009
5:33 pm

JK – where can I find out about your background as a food critic? would like to know more about your “upbringing”

Carol

November 6th, 2009
12:30 pm

Quantrano & Harrison should have gone all the way and named their new restaurant OFFAL.

N-GA

November 6th, 2009
4:53 pm

I love Babbo…go there or Esca whenever I’m in NYC. Favorite dish is fois gras-stuffed ravioli with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Not subtle…needed a BIG Amarone for balance!

caponata

November 8th, 2009
9:54 am

Its funny, reading through the blogs above and also some of your other posts nobody answers your questions. La Pietra, last night was as spot-on as the meals I have been served at Babbo. Special of truffle carbonara was balanced with truffle and egg serving as a great prelude to the backdrop of pork. The Calabrese, served hot, was again spot on (3rd time trying),reverting back to apps, fried olives and tuna with cucumber brodo, mellow and sophisticated, although not the right time of year for a dish like this. The lamb, it came out medium rare without me asking, I like this! It reflects a New York mentality of understanding how a meat should be cooked, and the sauce ? It was nice to run a piece of meat through the Fonduta, but, it was so well seasoned I didnt think it needed it. Bravo Bruce, E stato un pasto delizioso, the service, still needs some help though. Uneven? Maybe to traditional standards, but modern twists like this are happening all over italy. By the way, about six months ago I walked by a table you were sitting at with friends and commented on being a big fan of yours, sorry to interrupt your meal, impulse and too much wine led to on-sight word babble.

Vicki

November 9th, 2009
5:17 pm

My husband and I went here when it first opened, and were turned away by the hostess, who said
” All the tables are full, you will have to leave” in a kind of trance. We said, trying to help….Could we sit at the bar and maybe have a glass of wine while we wait? And she just looked at us. It was the strangest reception ever. We turned and left.

BigDaddy

November 10th, 2009
8:31 pm

I found this place to be frustrating – you can tell that it’s on the verge of being something really good – but it’s not there yet. There’s more in my review here: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-22925-Atlanta-Lunch-Examiner~y2009m11d10-La-Pietra-Cucina–First-Impressions