Newbie roundup: Tartufo, Umma's House and Barcelona Wine Bar
Sneak peeks at three of Atlanta's newest restaurants
This week, we're grazing for real. I want to share some quick glimpses of three brand-new restaurants. Hold onto your fork. We're eating on the run.
Barhoumi is the infectiously pleasant former manager of Amuse and this venture suits his informal style. The rectangular, largely undecorated space features an open kitchen with a bar that allows you to sit within inches of twirling pizza dough. For now, Tartufo doesn't have an alcohol license, but you can tote a beer from next door at La Fourchette.
Five of us sat at the end of a communal table and ordered three of the 14-inch pizzas. Tartfuo is using a brick, electric oven. Pizza fanatics can make their own judgment about the heat it generates, but you won't wait long for your pie.
Our favorite was the margherita, not made with bufala, but a fresh fior di latte with lots of flavor, melting into a San Marzano sauce and topped with a pinwheel of large basil leaves. The outer crust was chewy but not dense and, yes, the pie exhibited the char that has come to obsess the pizza savvy.
For me, the pizzas were rather gooey. I'm talking toppings that easily slid off the dough. I know the proper structure and crispness of pizza is controversial, so some may find this totally to their liking. Further, for all I know, we hit a night when the dough was temperamental.
We also ordered the Parma, topped with mozzarella, Reggiano, arugula and an uncharacteristically thick-cut prosciutto. Finally, we ate the Siciliana, with roasted eggplant, mozzarella and San Marzano sauce. The menu also listed capers among the ingredients but I didn't encounter one in the couple of slices I ate.
"Tartufo" is Italian for "truffle" and the signature pie includes truffle oil. We didn't try it but two of us did sample the house-made gelato. Don't miss the vanilla-basil, a palate-shocking blend that might make you wonder if Richard Blais had dropped a slice of the margherita in a blender and froze it.
Umma's House (75 5th St., 404-477-3255) is a new Korean-Japanese restaurant in Technology Square. I hate being unable to recommend what seems like an earnest effort, but my one lunch there was bizarre. I ordered bibimbap, the classic Korean dish of vegetables over rice with meat, a fried egg and chili sauce.
Umma serves it in deconstructed fashion. You get a bowl with a few vegetables – mainly lettuce leaves and some julienne carrots with a small cluster of marinated beef (or was it pork?). The rice comes on the side as does the chili sauce. No fried egg and no vegetables of interest, for that matter. This all might be appropriate for takeout, if you're carrying your bowl across campus to eat an hour later. Otherwise, please compose my bowl correctly.
All dishes come with a side of miso soup. If you were blindfolded and competing in a taste test, you'd have no idea what you were sipping. I also ordered a California roll that was made, like other available rolls, with "crab stick." It was served with a fingernail-size smear of wasabi occupying a microscopic space in the top of a little container with a few ginger slices.
I did not try the sushi, but I will if someone wants to pay for my lunch, gas and parking.
Barcelona Wine Bar (240 N. Highland Ave., 404-589-1010) has opened in Inman Park and I dropped by late on their second night open. I found the place absolutely packed but got a table by myself at the patio's front gate. Don't stare at me while I'm eating without wine in a wine bar.
I'm excited about this restaurant. If I could live where I wanted, it would be in Spain, and the lengthy menu here was mainly like flamenco to my ears. I do have a warning at the outset. When I asked if the tapas portions were designed for one or two, I was told one. Not. They are truly the size of medias raciones and you will want to share them.
I tried three. The first to arrive was thick slices of chorizo with figs glazed in a blend of balsamic vinegar and sherry. The menu says the figs are "sweet and sour." They are not sour. The total effect was sweet — and delicious. I also ordered one of my favorites — pulpo a la Gallega. That's Galician-style octopus and fingerling potatoes with slightly spicy paprika and olive oil. I prefer my octopus grilled until it's charred, but the dish was good enough.
My favorite was caldo verde, a classic soup of the Portuguese but not uncommon in western Spain. The soup's dominating flavor and color derives from lots of finely chopped kale. It also includes pieces of chorizo, turnips and white beans. The latter two ingredients were unfamiliar in my experience, but I liked their addition, especially the turnips, adding another note of bitterness to the more subtle kale.
Barcelona is open for dinner only now, but lunch will start in a few weeks. I'm heading back soon to try more. I was glad to see that paella is on the menu, by the way. Let's see if Barcelona manages to sell this classic dish that seems to disinterest Atlantans.