Rendezvous with a Northern Italian Steakhouse
Lately, my curious nature has noticed what may be a rather different trend emerging in Italian restaurant style. That is, the Italian Steakhouse idea which has been popping up more frequently around the US. I know, I know – this sounds kind of funny because Italians don’t seem to gravitate toward a lot of beef eating as much as Americans do. Even so, I have seen many more Italian menus of late that offer fine beef dishes deviating from the “classici” such as Tuscan favorite, “Bistecca alla Fiorentina”. This, I think, is influenced more by our American obsession with large portions of meat, beef in particular. The Italian Steakhouse model combines some traditional Italian cuisine specialties with beef occupying a substantial portion of the menu. All this is coupled with a more sleek and contemporary ambience in the look of the restaurant itself.
The new Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta is one such example of what I see as a somewhat different concept in Italian restaurant style. Davio’s flagship restaurant in Boston was followed by two others, one in Foxborough and one in Philadelphia – and then the fourth and newest in Atlanta. They all follow the same playbook with the coupling of traditional Italian dishes including fresh pasta with a prime emphasis on the grill. There is a sleek, contemporary, and sophisticated ambience to the restaurants, with the Atlanta location feeling definitely uptown. Recently, I had an opportunity to experience Davio’s myself for lunch. Upon entering, you immediately know you have entered an Italian restaurant that is not typical.
To your immediate left is the large and open bar area. You get the feeling that this is a bar where fast paced business conversations of the Buckhead influential might take place along with the occasional sighting of a vibrant pair of stilettos making the scene at “happy hour” – kind of a see and be-seen type of place.
To your right is the softly lit dining area – again sophisticated, open, and very cosmopolitan.
The bustling kitchen is open with a seating area close by for those who want to watch the process as they dine.
One might think with the upscale nature and feel of the place that service might be on the “snooty” side as is sometimes the case. Quite the contrary. I found that the service was friendly and eager to please. Our server, Sandy, was pleasant and well informed about the components of the menu. Jonathan Mattson, who is part of the management team came by to greet us and check on our needs occasionally. I found their overall service to be attentive without being intrusive. One thing I noticed and appreciated was Jonathan’s knowledge of the menu and Italian food in general and his willingness to have a conversation about both without rushing off to another table.
The menu is very extensive and the wine list, solid. It would be impossible, I think, to navigate through menu items and not find some innovative dish or culinary expression that was new to you. There are several interesting pasta choices with preparations that would appeal to the senses of even a seasoned Italian palate. The grill takes center stage with the “Davio’s Burger” said to be “signature”at the establishment. They also provide a selection of spring rolls which were touted by our server as a specialty.
At the helm in the kitchen is the young Executive Chef, Bennett Hollberg, who came to Atlanta via Seattle to sharpen his skills at the Downtown Ritz Carlton’s Atlanta Grill. Now at Davio’s, he skillfully oversees a menu that keeps some of the same dishes served at the Boston, Foxborough, and Philadelphia locations as well as introduces others more interesting to local Atlanta foodies.
As you would expect, the grill choices offered are an all star line-up. A neat thing about this place is that your pal can order a fine aged New York Sirloin while you satisfy your “seasoned Italian palate” with Gnocchi and Truffle Oil. Even the much revered Kobe Beef is available here in different presentations – one of which is pizza. Who knew?
Take a look at the Kobe Beef Pizza. This pizza with its light and crispy crust MUST be shared as it is sizable. A Pizza for two! The Tomato Aioli, pink and sweet, with just a touch of heat on this pizza was dynamite! The bits of Kobe Beef, though quite small, were tender, tasty and surprisingly in abundance on each piece. The chopped lettuce provided a nice crunch, and the Gruyere Cheese was rich and provided endlessly long strands of goodness, stretching like a spider web from every slice – so long as to suggest the need for scissors. What fun!
All of their breads are made “in house”, and I found them to be varied and tasty: an Italian loaf, another bread with cranberries and nuts, and Focaccia with fresh herbs and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Jonathan described his favorite part of the day, walking into the restaurant early in the morning, greeted by the aroma of fresh bread baking. I mused that we should all aspire to begin a day of work with such a a pleasant stimulation to the senses.
One surprise was a well executed version of one of my favorite dishes, Crispy Fried Chicken Livers, which I hadn’t seen on a menu in more years than I care to count. The Davio’s variation of this dish was really a treat and new to me. The chicken livers were truly crispy even when blanketed in a slightly sweet robe of rich dark Aged Balsamic and Port Glaze . With the Port so prominent in this rich glaze, you can bet it would make anything taste good. It was lovely. The very unique final touch to this dish was a scattered few pieces of “glass spinach” – spinach leaves crisply and delicately fried so you can almost see through them. When one of these little numbers lands on your tongue you must pay attention as it literally disappears and melts away in an instant .
Jonathan further described a focus of the restaurant on the use of fresh ingredients and dedication to the European style where shopping is done daily for the very freshest of seasonal food items. Preparation of food is the same day that ingredients are selected and purchased. He said this was especially important in terms of fruit selections for the Dolci or Desserts. These fresh items are then incorporated into the dessert menu as they are available. The dessert selections are varied and numerous.
While my eyes meandered through the dessert cart “Fantasyland”, I had an opportunity to talk with the very dynamic Pastry Chef, Kathleen Brown Miliotis, who is Greek by heritage. She is a native Atlantan who worked at Harvest Bistro in Closter, NJ, about ten minutes outside of NYC near the George Washington Bridge, before returning to Atlanta to head Davio’s Atlanta pastry section. Kathleen said that Davio’s gave her a good deal of latitude on creating and selecting the items to be featured on the dessert menu as well as serving some of the expected ones such as Tiramisu etc. She stands apart, I think, in a very competitive field in Atlanta. This is a pastry chef who knows her stuff. She is a contender!
Check out the dessert we sampled. Troppo Bella!
This was a very dark and decadent bar of three layers: the top layer was a Dark Chocolate Glacee , Bittersweet Chocolate in the middle, with a flourless dark chocolate cake at the bottom and was surprisingly not overly sweet. It was accompanied by a quenelle scoop (egg shaped scoop) of Greek Yogurt Sorbet which retained the unmistakable tang of the Greek Yogurt -Kathleen’s personal stamp . Simply delicious! Several nice sized pieces of glaceed kumquats graced the plate. Kumquats, of course, are so familiar to Italians and are always a part of the holiday dessert course or fruit offerings. I thought this was an especially authentic touch. The kumquats for this dish were first poached in Pinot Grigio and then candied with a simple syrup. The kumquats totally lost their naturally bitter quality and were transformed into the sweetest of delights generously scattered on the plate.
Some of the other selections that were tantalizing were: the Panna Cotta, Ricotta Cheesecake with Almond crust, and the Apple Crostada which also had a rather artistic presentation.
All in all, it was an interesting adventure at Davio’s. I learned that Steakhouses and Italian food just might be simpatico! I look forward to another visit soon and recommend that my Atlanta Italian foodie friends give it a go as well as others who might be nearer to other locations. This place hits just the right notes to provide an enjoyable dining experience.
Now to shed the calories – power walk anyone??
Parla Come Mangi!
Also: See the RECIPE OF THE MONTH on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE!
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography