One of the most interesting things I’ve learned over this 30-day dine-a-thon is that restaurants throughout Atlanta are really thinking hard about the new economic reality and adjusting their menus to find that sweet spot where the prices feel like a bargain and the meal tastes like an indulgence.
At Pricci, the longstanding Italian restaurant in Buckhead, chef Piero Premoli has devised a fascinating concept. Each month, the Milan native focuses on a different region of Italy and explores that cuisine through a fixed-price ($29) three-course menu.There are several choices of appetizer and entree as well as two desserts.
On the night we visited, the special menu features dishes from Friuli Venezia Giulia — the corner of Italy bordered by Slovenia, Austria and the Adriatic Sea. I have good friends from Friuli and have visited them at their home in Udine. I remember going out to a restaurant and being impressed with the slight Germanic sweet-and-sour tilt to some of the dishes.
Well known foods from the region include frico crisps made from griddle-seared montasio cheese; San Daniele prosciutto (which my friends insist is superior to Parma proscuitto); and the quenching and ubiquitous white wine of the region, Tocai Friulano.
I wish a few of these unadorned items had been front and center, as they would have given guests a nice introduction to the region.
But we enjoyed our meal.
My friend got this salad made with Gala apples, smoked trout and mixed lettuces in a green apple vinaigrette.
I ordered an unphotographable (at least by me) plate of wood-grilled calf liver émincé (thin strips) and caramelized onion threads served with grilled country bread. It was an old friend of a dish. ( Note to other Atlanta’s chefs: Bring back calf liver.)
My friend ate this fillet of pan-roasted branzino served atop lots of little tomatoes, zucchini bits and potatoes in a creamy, herbal wine sauce. We both found it a little too rich and saucy.
Ditto my tortei — a set of delicious ravioli stuffed with a forcemeat of braised osso buco and San Daniele prosciutto in a heavy-duty blanket of leek and pea cream sauce.
We both went bananas for pastry chef Jennifer Etchison’s desserts. This coppa al Gianduja will put the lie to anyone who says they don’t like chocolate. Consider: homemade gianduja (chocolate/hazelnut) ice cream topped with cinnamon-whipped marscapone cheese, chocolate sauce and candied chestnuts. Bellissimo!
And this Strudel Udinese combined apples, walnuts, dried fruits and chocolate bits in crisp sheets of dough with a honey cream. Delicate and lovely. It also reminded me very much of a dessert I ate in Udine.
Pricci is a funny spot. It greets you at the door with a mixture of smells from the open kitchen, an Art Deco design that speaks of faded glamour, a loud soundtrack and a clientele that seems to comprise Buckhead families, displaced Northeasterners and big parties dining on expense accounts. The savvy staff in white steward’s jackets seems to understand everyone.
I’ll keep an eye out for Premoli’s monthly specials.