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Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse review, Buckhead

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Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are.

First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She sips Coke through a straw and eats spring rolls with her fingers.

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

Now turn your attention to my wife, standing by the hostess stand and wondering aloud if she is overdressed. Let’s follow her dubious gaze as it pans through the dining room and lands on a young family. Dad tries and fails to carry off the Turtle from “Entourage” look of outsized athletic wear, gold jewelry and backwards ball cap. Mom rocks a baby in a car seat; 4-year-old bolts from his seat. But over there in that banquette sits a cashmere-swathed matron with sculpted grey hair and earring rocks so massive they would cause a lesser dame to keel over into her soup. And isn’t that manager in a natty suit Claude Guillaume, late of the Ritz-Carlton? This ain’t Denny’s.

Where are we? If you answer an upscale shopping mall, then you get one of my spring rolls. Second prize: two of my spring rolls.

Davio's trademarked spring rolls (Photos by Becky Stein)

Davio's trademarked spring rolls (Photos by Becky Stein)

Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse opened in late August in Phipps Plaza. Like many an ambitious mall eatery, it projects an image of special-destination grandeur but caters to the come-as-you-are reality of people shopping for convenient food. Swank crowd pleasers – prime steaks and chops, pastas rich with cream and truffle oil -– headline the menu. But the kitchen churns out scores of dishes for every palate and every mood. Some of this food is successful, some plainly awful, and much comes at pre-recession prices to make your eyes boggle. You have to figure out how to best use this plush newcomer if you are to enjoy it. (Hint: get a steak.)

This location, set in part of the former Niketown space, is the fourth link in a Boston-based chain that owner Steve DiFillippo began building 25 years ago. If you’ve ever spent any time in the Northeast, you might recognize the over-the-top indulgence native to a certain kind of New England Italian restaurant – the cadre of managers prowling the room, the mahogany wainscoting, the overflowing baskets of house-baked breads, the ritual of the dessert tray. It’s old-school swellegant.

And the menu! I counted more than 65 distinct dishes, from foie gras with a sweet potato waffle, to homemade sausage and beans, to hand-rolled gnocchi, to lobster risotto. One section lists Davio’s classics; another focuses on house specialties.

After dutiful exploration, I’ve decided it’s best to approach this menu in a steakhouse state of mind. How about a salad to start things off? A chopped salad ($9) holds bursty bites of green bean, chickpea, onion, pancetta, blue cheese and other pellets of pure flavor. Bibb lettuce leaves ($7) hold chopped tomatoes, bacon and bright-tasting dollops of buttermilk pesto. Bufula mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes ($14) come chilled to a fare-thee-well but are of fine quality. Still, I’m not sure what to think of the pile of sweet chopped pickle hovering alongside as if someone upended a Chicago dog on the plate. I don’t hate it, exactly…

New York strip steak

New York strip steak

Then have your steak, because it’s a doozie. The 14-ounce Prime New York strip ($42) has the gorgeous melt-on-your-tongue marbling you’d expect for that price. It is also seasoned right, with that canny level of salt that persuades the beefy flavor to bloom on your tongue.

Other simple entrees do the trick. Grilled fillets of rainbow trout ($18) are tasty, if on the dry side. A pan-crisped “Statler” chicken ($25) – boneless breast with the wingtip attached – beads with juices when cut and arrives in a raft of mashed potatoes so creamy-soft that we ask to box them with our leftovers.

"Statler" chicken

"Statler" chicken

The gnocchi ($18), alas, seem more like a bowlful of Gummi Bears doused in truffle oil. A lunchtime order of tagliatelle bolognese ($15) wallows in a pasty ragù of beef, pork and veal. Pasta at this restaurant feels heavy and indelicate.

Much of the food has a gut-buster quality, from an un-bite-through-able prosciutto panini ($14) to a side of barely cooked Tuscan kale ($6) gobsmacked with cream and salt, to a signature appetizer of the world’s crispiest chicken livers ($9) on a black pool of balsamic-port treacle that looks straight from the BP cookbook.

There’s also a kind of 1980s’ throwback thing going on here. That dessert tray is a hoot, and I find it hard to say no to the fluffy innocuousness of a slab of tiramisu ($9). Maine lobster ravioli ($29) with fresh peas is another dish I recall fondly from the shoulder-pad era, right down to the gummy pasta and irresistible cream sauce.

Which brings us to the trademarked Philly cheese steak spring rolls ($11) – fine if you like deep-fried tubes of meaty ooze. No shame. You might want the sampler platter ($13), which also includes shrimp, chicken parm and Buffalo chicken spring rolls set upright upon a disturbing abundance of sauce squiggles.

Me, I’ll pass on the spring rolls but spend time exploring the wine list with sommelier Robert Evans, previously with the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Worthwhile Italian wines keep company with a compendium of heavy-hitting American cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays. But, man, the markups are steep. Cecchi Vernaccia di San Gimignano – a simple, well-structured Tuscan white that might cost $15 or $16 in the store and serves as a fine aperitif – goes for $45 on the list. Other commonly available wines sell for three times retail price.

Claude Guillaume

Claude Guillaume

No question that Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse rocks it old school – big, expensive, over the top. I do like seeing waiters in starchy white steward’s jackets rolling trolleys through the room, and I am thrilled to see the Ritz-Carlton’s Claude Guillaume again working his front-of-the-house magic.

In fact, on both visits I noticed him greeting many old customers of those dining rooms. Guillaume is the face of fine dining in Atlanta, and his presence brings out the best in this confusing mall restaurant.

DAVIO’S NORTHERN ITALIAN STEAKHOUSE
3500 Peachtree Road, in Phipps Plaza, Buckhead, 404-835-8563
2stars5
Food: Steaks, decorous Italian fare and spring rolls headline a vast menu
Service: Old school, with long menu presentations and tableside service
Best dishes: New York strip, Statler chicken, lobster ravioli, chopped salad
Vegetarian selections: Quite a few, including pastas and a vegetarian paella
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m, Monday-Saturday; dinner 5-11 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and 5 p.m.-midnight, Friday-Saturday; brunch noon-3 p.m., Sunday
Children: People do bring them in the spirit of all’s fair in a mall, but it’s an upscale environment
Parking: Paid valet as well as self-parking in the Phipps lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Gets high enough on busy nights that you have to raise your voice
Patio: Yes, a small one
Takeout: Yes
RatingsKey_3

50 comments Add your comment

lindak

October 22nd, 2010
8:07 am

Sorry, but this didn’t sound all that appetizing, especially at the prices mentioned. I would have given it a one star since there were more misses than hits (it sounded like….). Especially since buckhead is not lacking in restaurants that are in the neighborhood or only a short drive away. It certainly didn’t make my list of “gotta go” restaurants….. Perhaps the “behind the review” will shed more light…..

[...] Continued here: Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse dining review, Buckhead | Food … [...]

TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

October 22nd, 2010
8:55 am

[...] Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse review, Buckhead – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are. First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She sips [...]

Matt

October 22nd, 2010
9:09 am

I agree with lindak that this sounds more like a one star review. I have a feeling the second star was awarded on the merit of service alone (Guillaume), but it contradicts the “food is consistent” bit in the ratings guide.

RK

October 22nd, 2010
9:20 am

With regards to that steak photo, I think I’ve seen better plating at Outback.

TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

October 22nd, 2010
10:28 am

[...] Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are. First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She sips Checkout more about Steak Houses [...]

[...] is the original post: Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse dining review, Buckhead | Food … Uncategorized atlanta, buckhead, confusing, davio, face, fine-dining, peachtree, [...]

[...] Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse — reviewed in this week’s Go Guide — sent out its press materials, no one could help but notice the registered trademark next to [...]

ATL Diner

October 22nd, 2010
12:10 pm

” Cecchi Vernaccia di San Gimignano – a simple, well-structured Tuscan white that might cost $15 or $16 in the store and serves as a fine aperitif – goes for $45 on the list. Other commonly available wines sell for three times retail price.”

This egregious wine pricing is commonplace in ATL, in fact I see it an astonishing 4-5 times retail sometimes! It’s a huge turnoff/disincentive for diners in the know and an unfortunate reality in many restaurants….restaurant owners need to wake up…

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October 22nd, 2010
12:30 pm

[...] Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are. First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She sips Continue to view more Steak Facts [...]

Theron Sapp

October 22nd, 2010
12:35 pm

Great. Just what we need in Buckhead. Another $42 steak.

Rodney

October 22nd, 2010
12:37 pm

Well, Davio’s really wasn’t even on my radar before and this clinches it. Pass.

@ATL Diner – I’m wondering if it’s more price inflation to offset the liquor license cost. Maybe to offset? Anyway, I can’t wait for Atlanta restos to adopt the BYOB model. Some of the more memorable meals (alliteration is the word of the day) I’ve had when traveling are at BYOB restos (in Philly for example). I don’t mind bringing my own wine and I certainly don’t mind the cost savings.

Ray Ferraro's Bobble Head Doll

October 22nd, 2010
12:38 pm

JK? Why the gauging on wine anyway? Anything to do with insurance/liability or is it just a money grab?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jenny Turknett, accessAtlanta. accessAtlanta said: Review of Davio's Steakhouse: Big, expensive & over-the-top. Stick w the steak. http://bit.ly/9pmyOw [...]

Hankie Aron

October 22nd, 2010
1:17 pm

People are starving, losing homes, and otherwise depressed yet we still have ritzy restaurant reviews for overpriced food.

smc

October 22nd, 2010
1:20 pm

We dined at Davio’s just 4 days after it opened and were amazed and pleased with the excellent service, all to the credit of the incredible Claude. You would never expect this quality in a restaurant only open 4 days. While we were there we met the manager of the Davio’s in Philadelphia. He is the former maitre’d of the exquisite Fountain Restaurant in Philadelphia. While in Philly recently we dined at his Davio’s and while not as fine an experience as Claude’s Davio’s, it was still special. Seems like the owners of Davio’s know what they are doing in hiring these fine dining masters as their general managers.

beach lover

October 22nd, 2010
1:24 pm

I have eaten twice at Davios. The first time at the bar and the second at a table. I really thought the food was fine but I agree with the confusion on the setting.

We really need something decent at Phipps Plaza (sorry but the Tavern and Twist are not good even though they are always crowded). The Grape is nice before or after a movie. Davios sort of fills the niche of a place you can get anything. Have a steak (not all are $42) or just sit at the bar and have the spring rolls. Yes, they are gut-busters but they are comfort food. Yes, the prices are high. But maybe that will keep out the “Twist and Tavern” crowd. As for the wine, I noticed there were not any reasonably priced by the glass wines. Not too out of the ordinary for the area though. The service was good and the food good enough. It will do fine.

TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

October 22nd, 2010
1:30 pm

[...] Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are. First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She sips More Steak News [...]

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October 22nd, 2010
1:56 pm

[...] Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse review, Buckhead – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blo… [...]

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October 22nd, 2010
2:55 pm

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

John Kessler

October 22nd, 2010
3:00 pm

Hey, folks —

I was expecting some grumbling about the 2 star rating, so let me explain my reasoning. I did go back and forth for a long time between one and two stars, as I felt this restaurant was right on the edge. Overall, the food rated a good 1 1/2 stars, but the setting was pleasant and the service very nice — more in the 3 star range. I really did not like some of the food very much, but I had a pleasant time on both of my visits.
I went once for lunch, where the food was not much to my liking. But I was also ordering like a restaurant critic — getting one item from column A, one from column B, etc. Then I went back at dinner and thought about what looked good and how I could best enjoy this restaurant. We had a nice meal, and only a few issues with the food. I looked around and saw different people enjoying different kinds of meals. That’s what gave me the idea that this is a mall restaurant that caters to wide variety of tastes and expectations.
I think it more or less consistently delivers an experience that is good in the context of Phipps Plaza. Like beach lover said, it’s a good step up from Twist and the Tavern at Phipps — both restaurants where I’ve spend money on convenience without really much liking my meals.
I think it’s a restaurant that aims for 3 stars, but comes up short. That said, I think that people with interest and income for this place can learn how to use it and enjoy it.
Again, I am aware that many folks can’t afford Davio’s, but it is popular, people are talking about it, people are curious, and so it does merit a review. Thanks!

elmack

October 22nd, 2010
5:00 pm

Very over priced. Had a $42 steak that was slightly better than Outback. Portions are small. Wine list is extremely over priced. Definately more style than substance.

lindak

October 22nd, 2010
5:07 pm

@ATL Diner: I have a friend who owns a restaurant and says that the biggest problem is that wine/liquor prices from the distributor are not that far off retail, and by the time it gets marked up to make a profit, it does make it more expensive (maybe not 4 times more). AS Rodney says, the liquor license may figure into it too (never asked about that, just heard the complaints about the process). I can’t verify that, of course, but it could be an explanation for the generally higher bottle prices you see here.

Ed Graham

October 22nd, 2010
5:10 pm

Hankie Aron – Just because a VERY FEW people in this country are starving, and SOME people are losing their houses, that doesn’t mean that those of us who can afford such a restaurant can’t go there. Remember that restaurants offer people JOBS.

John from Chicago

October 22nd, 2010
5:43 pm

At these prices, come on. For a real Italian Steakhouse, go to Harry Caray’s in Chicago. Way better food, service, location, history and ambiance. And prices are nothing like this.

Not sure if I know a respectable Northern Italian that would pay $25 for chicken or eat bad gnocchi. Get real

Josh

October 22nd, 2010
9:59 pm

Cool, John. Next time I’m at Phipps I’ll hope on the teleporter (love that thing!) and zip right over to Chicago. Good tip!

RonC

October 22nd, 2010
10:09 pm

Gotta say that I pretty much agree with the review on all points. When I read it this morning and reflected on my personal experience, I thought “it’s really a 1.5 star place,” then I see John contemplating the same thing this afternoon. Here’s the way I come out on it. The service was good…from the bartender to the servers and, of course, Claude. But it was shockingly expensive (especially the wine – and I don’t even generally even notice menu prices), there were some real misses on the menu (our server tried to warn us away from one, but we didn’t listen – our mistake) and I didn’t have a single “wow, this is really good” moment with any of the dishes. I’ve only been once, so feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt. But in all honestly I’m not going back. There are too many other places to go.

Bob Fusillo

October 23rd, 2010
6:13 am

The old standard used to be that wines should be priced at 2 1/2 times wholesale ( which is what the reataurant pays), and that there should be a selection of several fine wines priced the same as an entree. Them days is quite clearly gone.

Baltisral

October 23rd, 2010
6:57 am

John from Chicago….your segway to Harry Caray’s in Chicago was a mystery!!! What does that have to do with Atl resturants? Reading between the lines I got the impression that this Steakhouse was “C” for average with a high price tag. Our town has many B+ resturants that are affordable and all menu items are edible.

SalGovernaleRichardChristy

October 23rd, 2010
8:38 am

John,

Quick query on how you go about your process of reviewing — when you visit a restaurant, do they know that you are a food critic (and hence may make special efforts to ensure you get the best food and service) or do you go undercover (to keep things as normal if you were just another customer)? Thanks for your entertaining reviews.

Matthew

October 23rd, 2010
8:43 am

I was more impressed with the kitchen and all the stainless than the $42 steak.

N-GA

October 23rd, 2010
9:04 am

I owned a retail liquor store here in Georgia. The folks in the industry may not like me telling the buying public the facts, but here they are:

Standard “bulk” wines like Inglenook, Gallo or even Arbor Mist are subject to quantity discounts. There is a significant difference in wholesale price if the retailer buyers 50 cases instead of 1 case. However, fine wines are priced the same regardless of quantity, for the most part.

The standard retail markup is 25%. So a bottle of wine that costs $40 from the wholesaler whould retail for $50 plus tax. I understand that restaurants typically price their wines at 100% markup, so that $40 bottle would be featured on the wine list at $80. I can almost understand this since the markup needs to include stemware, corked wines, etc. But some (generally “fine dining”) restaurants do mark their wines up 200%….some even 300%. I avoid those places because I consider that simply egregious…I refuse to go back.

The very high-end restaurants that offer fine wines from multiple, older vintages deserve to be able to increase their prices. These restaurants are few and far between down here in the South. Bern’s Steakhouse is, of course, a significant exception!

juice sourcer

October 23rd, 2010
9:22 am

I will never go to a place that charges 3 times retail for wine…it’s a rip off and insult to my intelligence and wallet…sorry Davio’s…you will not be getting my business.

juice sourcer

October 23rd, 2010
9:27 am

Bern’s does have a great selection of older vintages, however, they do the opposite….their wines are great values not rip off prices like this place. Thanks for the review…I will never set foot in here and neither should anyone else unless they like getting ripped off by the insane wine prices.

Meredith Paulson

October 24th, 2010
1:11 am

This was the most confusing review I’ve ever read….did you like it or not?

Baltisral

October 24th, 2010
8:28 am

Meredith Paulson….my guess is John was underwhelmed and over charged.

RK

October 25th, 2010
9:22 am

Harry Caray was Italian?

Bubba

October 25th, 2010
10:08 am

Too expensive for me – I’ll stay with Applebee’s!

Josh

October 25th, 2010
10:36 am

As a person who frequents some of the best restaurants in the world, I wouldn’t touch this place.

Service is important, but if the food is crap, I’ll stay away.

As an aside, I have no idea how these stars work. “Worthy addition” shouldn’t start at one star.

hojo

October 25th, 2010
10:55 am

I can go to Applebee’s four times for the same experience

Bob from Accounttemps

October 25th, 2010
11:47 am

Interesting comments on the wines and wine prices. And now, seeing $10 and $12 glasses of average wine, I’m seeing the same for martinis (Ketel One, even). How can it be more expensive to mix 2oz of liquor than to make an appetizer? Rip off, plain and simple and it causes me to simply not order a drink. I guess, given the price creep, I’m in the minority.

Mary Lou

October 25th, 2010
12:18 pm

We had dinner on Friday night. The first thing we noticed was a strong fish odor- the waitress said it was the wood burning charcoals they use in the kitchen. It was very unappetizing. We thought the food flavors were odd….short ribs and sea scallops. Would not return. Also, a food critic who says “I really did not like some of the food very much,” and awards the restaurant 2 stars….interesting. Bottom line – if you’re a foodie don’t go – if you just like loud dining and pleasant decor – go, have fun!

John Kessler

October 25th, 2010
7:25 pm

Sal – Even though I get recognized in places like Davio’s, I do make a point of not announcing my arrival. I make reservations in a different name and (of course) pay for all the food we order and eat. Places like Davio’s are expecting a review, and so they’re on the lookout. But I can often get through other places unnoticed. In those cases, I have credit cards with other names on them.

WBS

October 26th, 2010
5:43 am

Steak and chicken both look like picture menu at Ryan’s…

James

October 27th, 2010
12:16 pm

@Josh – think of each of the stars as an award. The more stars, the higher the recognition. There are many places that would be awarded no stars. This kind of system is pretty common for food reviews, particularly in large markets.

Baltisral

October 27th, 2010
5:38 pm

James, I wonder, has the AJC ever given 0 stars to a resturant? Or if the experience is bad just not publish the damning review. Just curious.

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October 27th, 2010
8:40 pm

[...] Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are. First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She More Steak News [...]

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October 27th, 2010
9:45 pm

[...] Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are. First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She Checkout more about Steak Houses [...]

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October 28th, 2010
9:27 am

[...] Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse review, Buckhead – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are. First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She [...]

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October 29th, 2010
1:32 am

[...] Let’s play a game. I’ll describe some customers, and you tell me where we are. First up is a couple who seems to have ordered meals from two different restaurants. He drinks red wine from a bowl-shaped glass and saws a rare steak contemplatively. She Continue to view more Steak Facts [...]