Since opening in the fall of 2008, La Pietra Cucina in Midtown had its fair share of growing pains.
For nearly nine months, diners walked through the vast, unfinished space that once was MidCity cuisine to sit in the temporary dining room in the small back bar. But, despite the unorthodox layout, Chef Bruce Logue turned out his progressive Italian cuisine to nearly unanimous critical fanfare. Even after the full remodeled dining room opened in May of 2009, the restaurant faced an obvious cohesiveness problem, but remained buoyed by the strength of Logue’s dishes. But when Logue left in March of 2012, it was time for La Pietra Cucina to adapt.
Enter Concentrics Restaurants. Under managerial control of their consulting arm, Concentrics oversaw La Pietra Cucina’s total overhaul. Rebranded as LPC, it reopened last fall with remodeled interior, a new chef, and a revamped, more approachable and affordable menu.
One obvious improvement is in the remodeling. Gone are the maroon and gold velvet-heavy walls and gaudy chandeliers, replaced with a brighter and more modern feeling dining room. The Johnson Studio teamed up with Concentrics to make the space more inviting, with sharper lines, more natural light, and the addition of a window into the kitchen, further opening up the space.
You may recognize new Executive Chef Russell Kook, if not from his time at The Florentine or CUT Steakhouse in Chicago, than from his runner-up finish on season 8 of Hell’s Kitchen. Of all of the players in the reinvention of LPC, I envy Kook the least. Given that Logue’s cooking was easily the best part of the old La Pietra Cucina, Kook is tasked with fixing one of the only things here that wasn’t broken. But to compare their food as apples-to-apples is unfair, as the new LPC focuses on a more casual take on refined Italian cuisine.
Kook’s new menu focuses more on small, shareable plates, offering pasta dishes in half and full servings, and now includes a small selection of thin crust pizzas. The only holdover from the previous menu is the immensely popular squid ink spaghetti ($11/$19), but other than the purplish black pasta, little remains from the old dish. Instead of shrimp and Calabrese sausage, Kook features blue crab, Serrano, grapefruit, and sea urchin. While I may wish to taste Logue’s original again someday, I’m more than happy with the rich blend of fresh crab and sea urchin in front of me.
Though a little cumbersome, we thoroughly enjoy the bruschetta of the day ($7), topped with ricotta, sopressata, cannellini beans, garlic bread crumbs, and pickled onion. And the Brussels sprouts salad ($12) surprises, arriving more of a slaw of shredded Brussels sprouts tossed with hardboiled egg, pecorino, almonds, and a light lemon vinaigrette.
But it is the pan fried octopus ($15) that steals my heart. I’d forgotten just how tender the usually tough cephalopod can be when prepared correctly. The thick fork-tender tentacle, lightly fried, arrives atop a nest of grilled frisee and pickled pearl onions, but it is the smoky and spicy arrabiata sauce that best accents the meat. This dish will convert many of the octopus haters among you.
I’ll admit to some skepticism over the addition of pizza to the retooled menu. It felt too much like a transparent attempt to class-down the menu, an obvious choice to show just how casual the new LPC would be. However, my fear was unfounded. Though it would make a perfectly fine meal for one, I suggest splitting the mushroom pizza ($13) as an appetizer. The thin-crust, sauceless pie packs a lot of flavor, all earthy fungus and funky taleggio punctuated by sweet caramelized onions and pungent garlic chips.
It isn’t until the entrees that I find the first real let-downs of the experience. A beautifully cooked, velvety-soft braised short rib ($25) promises a hearty and rich conclusion to my meal, only to come up under seasoned and a little bland. And I have to assume that Kook doesn’t intend his prosciutto swapped monkfish ($27) to arrive so overcooked that the pork turns leathery and the fish dry.
Overall, I would call LPC’s makeover a success, correcting many of the issues that once detracted from the dining experience. But I have to wonder if an injection of casual into a menu that once wowed us was the best call. Kook is an excellent chef, displaying brilliance in more than a few dishes, but there are still a few consistency kinks to work out, and I’d to see him push the envelope further than a “casual take” might allow. Regardless, the new LPC is definitely one to watch.LPC 1545 Peachtree St., Atlanta, 404-888-9709