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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Valenza

Pappardelle with ragù and house ricotta

Pappardelle with ragù and house ricotta

Hello good people, and welcome to Italian Week here on Food & More as I continue my tour of 30 Atlanta restaurants.

All this week I’ll be stopping in at neighborhood Italian restaurants. The thought most likely came to me because my wife and I have been paying our respects to James Gandolfini by rewatching the entire run of “The Sopranos,” an exercise that has left me starving for pasta on a nightly basis.

But, really, is there any dining experience more perfect than Italian? When an Italian restaurant clicks, it gets the big picture, the reason we like to go out to eat. There’s a warmth to the setting, a generosity of spirit to the service, a feeling that you’re being taken care of.

When the Zagat Survey of Atlanta Restaurants came out last year, four of the top 10 rankings for food were claimed by Italian places. Among them was Valenza, a Brookhaven spot that gets big love from its neighbors.

The rustic setting seems stagy for about a nanosecond when you transition from all the new construction outside. But the Venetian plastered walls, knotty pine support beams and antique furnishings cast a quick spell, and the lighting couldn’t be better. Valenza is a big restaurant with a smaller, self contained front dining room and bar, so it takes only five or six parties to turn the mood lively.

Lemon sole with pistachios, summer squash risotto and chanterelles

Lemon sole with pistachios, summer squash risotto and chanterelles

We went early on a Monday night and were surprised to find a dressy crowd just about filling up the front room. Bottled wine is half price on Mondays, so we ordered a delicious Barbaresco for $40 and felt very Tony and Carmela as we settled into our meal. Even though our waiter was juggling several tables and moving quickly, he never lost sight of us for a minute, and the food came in a flash. I see why Valenza is popular.

Chef Matt Swickerath has a confident touch and prepares hearty, cleanly plated indulgences.

We liked our generous starters, which included a roasted beet and goat cheese salad with frisee and arugula (a familiar dish, done right with a keen application of vinegar and salt), and a bowl of super-tender braised octopus in a tomato-chile broth. A chickpea-flour cake on the bottom of the bowl soaked up all the goodness.

Entrees were a mixed bag. Kudos to the fish pictured above — a butter-enriched indulgence with a layering of flavors. The pappardelle (on top) featured a traditional three-meat ragù (pork, beef, veal) and house-made ricotta, but it lacked any depth of flavor and needed more seasoning. Gnocchi were chewy (not a good thing) and their sauce of pancetta, mushrooms and sage added a greasy slick. Sometimes I think ordering gnocchi in a restaurant only brings heartbreak.

I’m not sure I’m 100% down with the pastas here, but I totally see why the neighbors love it so. This place is worth checking out.

Hey, if you want to recommend a worthy neighborhood Italian restaurant to finish out the week on the blog, I’m all ears. Thanks.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

38 comments Add your comment

Art

July 29th, 2013
11:10 am

We like this place although sometimes the service can get a bit overwhelmed with the crowds. Most of the dishes tend to be under seasoned and they’re one of those places that doesn’t put salt and pepper on the table so you have to ask. The pork saltimbocca with broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes is a consistently good dish for us as is the beet salad you mentioned. The place has a cool Italian vibe; wish we lived closer.

stephieZ

July 29th, 2013
11:43 am

If you are mixing up the Italian: Alfredo’s on Cheshire Bridge, Boccalupo in Inman Park, E 48th street market in Dunwoody.

Andrew

July 29th, 2013
12:18 pm

While not strictly “italian” per se, Bocca Lupo in Inman park is that spot. Consistently great pasta that comes in reasonable portions, and the Bruschetta Bahn Mi is the best starter I’ve had all year.

Marc

July 29th, 2013
12:30 pm

Vingenzo’s in Woodstock. It’s a schlep from Atlanta but a very good place for pizza and pasta.

D.Ross

July 29th, 2013
12:33 pm

Rosa Mia, John’s Creek should be considered for a visit.

Don Vito Corleone

July 29th, 2013
12:47 pm

La Bella’s Pizzeria in Marietta is the best I’ve had since I left NY.

Ned Ludd

July 29th, 2013
12:49 pm

Thanks John—have driven by several times and will now put on my ‘must do’ list. Agree with above poster about Alfredo’s but would also suggest Nino’s right next door. Both are truly neighborhood haunts. Seems like each has an incredibly strong regular clientele Although you recently visited La Grotta it has to be at the top of the list for anyone considering Italian cuisine in a neighborhood setting. Truly unique and top notch.

IG

July 29th, 2013
12:57 pm

Fini’s Pizza in Suwanee. Best pizza outside of NY that I’ve had.

Road Scholar

July 29th, 2013
1:00 pm

Nino’s beats Alfredos anytime! Both on Cheshire Bridge almost next to each other!

Food Lady

July 29th, 2013
1:13 pm

Stop by Frankies on Canton Highway in Marietta.

Lisa

July 29th, 2013
1:16 pm

La Nonnas – Norcross – Peachtree Parkway – Excellet Italian dining

Food Lady

July 29th, 2013
1:23 pm

Don Vito Corleone, La Bellas does have great pizza. Rick (owner) makes me a “Jersey Girl” pie. Thin and crispy. Also try Saporito’s (owner Gary) in Kennesaw and Angelos in Cartersville. You may have to mention thin and crispy or they will make a Georgia pie (too doughy). The three owners are good friends.

Sargon

July 29th, 2013
1:34 pm

Valenza is the only place I order spaghetti and meatballs out. It is fabulous.

Bob from Accounttemps

July 29th, 2013
1:37 pm

@John – I hear you about the gnocchi. The best gnocchi I have ever had anywhere were at Pasta Vino when under the ownership of the original owner. Not sure now as I haven’t been back in years (since they tried to move “upscale” under new owners) They were always, always perfect – light and never gummy or rubbery.

Moosh

July 29th, 2013
1:39 pm

La Tavola in the Highlands, 246 in Decatur and Sotto Sotto. All solid from start to finish.

Kat

July 29th, 2013
1:44 pm

Food Lady: Frankie’s on Canton Road? Really? Let me get my can opener so I can help open up my meal.

Don Johnson

July 29th, 2013
1:59 pm

TNT 65

July 29th, 2013
2:08 pm

John,
Try Bambinelli’s in Northlake. The Grouper Francese is fantastic, and all the pasta dishes are delicioso. It also has an old neighborhood atmosphere, even in a modern building.

Jules

July 29th, 2013
2:13 pm

141 in John’s Creek.

Robert

July 29th, 2013
3:12 pm

I second Vingenzo’s in Woodstock. Since it dropped out of the top 50 this year I’d be interested in an update on it. I have found it inconsistant over the years. Especially regarding the pizza crust. One time it’s cracker thin, the next time perfect, the next time way too doughy, the next time somewhere in between all three. One never knows what to expect. The pastas seem to not have that consistency problem.

Robert

July 29th, 2013
3:14 pm

Mr. Kessler, by the way if you haven’t been to downtown Woodstock recently you wouldn’t believe the transformation that it has gone through. Even the chef formally at Baccanalia is now running the Century House Tavern kitchen. Who’d a thought…

Doug

July 29th, 2013
5:15 pm

DiPaolo in Alpharetta.

G

July 29th, 2013
5:20 pm

Is it too early to go to Timone’s in Morningside? We went the other night and thought it was really awesome.

TeeKay

July 29th, 2013
9:48 pm

Luciano’s in Duluth

Grasshopper

July 29th, 2013
10:51 pm

I usually feel kind of ripped off when I eat traditional Italian meals out. Pasta and tomatoes are so cheap and restaurants charge an arm and a leg for it. I try to stick to fish dishes or something a little unusual; ixnay on spaghetti and meat sauce or lasagna.

Matt Jackman

July 30th, 2013
2:45 am

Good to hear that italian food restaurants are incresing day by day.i love italian food very much.

[...] gnocchi here are softer and more appealing than the ones I wrote about yesterday, though we could have done without the bland veal-ricotta meatballs on top. Where oh where do you [...]

Marsh

July 30th, 2013
11:43 am

Alfredo’s indeed full of regulars and if you aren’t one, then eff you. I’ve never wanted to strike a person as much as I wanted to strike Rudy when he put his stupid finger in my face because I was apparently interrupting a conversation with one of his “regulars.” Only time I’ve every walked out of a restaurant without touching the entree.

Always liked La Tavola. Last time I was there the chef came out to ask about a new item we ordered. Good food, great atmosphere.

Kat

July 30th, 2013
4:16 pm

Do not go to Frankie’s, it’s horrible!!! My favorite place, by far, is Antica Posta.

Jim

July 30th, 2013
4:38 pm

Italian? What about Vingenzo’s in Woodstock? Everything made from scratch…very good.

crackbaby

July 30th, 2013
4:40 pm

@Doug – I second di Paolo. JK doesn’t seem a fan. Maybe this is the week.

Elayne Ewaskiew

July 30th, 2013
4:51 pm

Rosa’s on Sandy Plains Road in East Cobb. Their Pizza is consistently good and the pasta dishes are
price right with a large portion. The salad is large enough to share with two other people. I highly
recommend trying it.

Honey Bun

John Kessler

July 30th, 2013
5:27 pm

These are all great suggestions. Haven’t been to di Paolo in several years, and I do recall thinking it had slipped a little back then, but I still liked it. Definitely one of the better Italian destinations in Rosaretta.

Andy

July 30th, 2013
5:28 pm

+1 for DiPaolo in Alpharetta

John

July 30th, 2013
5:31 pm

La Nonnas – Norcross – Peachtree Parkway – Is the best in Italian dining

Kean DeCarlo

July 30th, 2013
5:53 pm

DiPaolo in Alpharetta – food and wine are outstanding. The menu changes by the season and it a continuous joy to experiment with. I often pick to 1/2 orders to enjoy the varied taste choices.

Bob LaBlah

July 30th, 2013
5:57 pm

What about the Olive Garden?