Feedbag - Survivor in the 'hood
La Tavola maintains its Italian allure
The folks at La Tavola have figured out a few things about running a neighborhood restaurant. In Virginia-Highland, where a new restaurant opens every five minutes or so, your glamour is bound to wear off eventually. The trick is to keep people coming back. So in lieu of snobbish hosts and chilly decor, La Tavola has taken a more down-to-earth route. This charming little trattoria wears consistency, friendliness and comfort like badges of honor.
Despite its diminutive size, the dining room feels cozy and welcoming, rather than cramped. The room glows with the patina of well-polished wood, and white tablecloths dress up the tables. Mirrors and high ceilings create a sense of airiness in the long, narrow space. Servers buzz past, and I wonder how they maneuver in such a confined space. But somehow they manage to shuttle drinks and dishes capably — even gracefully — among the tightly packed tables.
If La Tavola's northern Italian menu doesn't astound you, it won't disappoint you, either. Paper-thin slices of beef carpaccio, drizzled with lemon vinaigrette and topped with peppery arugula and curls of parmigiano-reggiano cheese, makes for a light appetizer. The beef practically dissolves on the tongue, while the other flavors give the dish bite.
Pastas can all be ordered in full or appetizer portions. Order a few appetizer-sized portions to share — they're too good to miss. Fresh pappardelle ribbons swirl in a lusty, slow-cooked Bolognese sauce. Ricotta and sage ravioli are sophisticated comfort food: The fragrant homemade ravioli are dressed simply with butter, black pepper and cheese.
Entrees were a bit heavy for a sultry summer night: A salmon filet coated with breadcrumbs and kalamata olives had great flavor but was simply too rich. A tomato-onion compote lightened up the dish, but oily fish plus oily olives equals heavy on the stomach. Roasted chicken with crackly, balsamic-glazed skin was the essence of hearty peasant food. The chicken was juicy and tender in its salty-tangy skin. A quick pan-sear gave the accompanying porcini mushroom gnocchi an unexpected yet pleasant crunch.
Our server was friendly but frazzled. He brought out an appetizer that we didn't order, and we had to flag him down mid-meal to order a second round of drinks. But truthfully, it didn't detract much from the meal. Like the best neighborhood restaurants, La Tavola's small imperfections only seem to add to its charm.
?Covering Brookhaven to Inman Park.?
INMAN PARK GROWS UP — Inman Park is brimming with new dining options these days. Just opened in the Highland Walk development, across the street from the Roman Lily Cafe and Jake's Ice Cream and Sorbets, is Zuma, an upscale sushi and sake bar. Asada has opened on DeKalb Avenue, replacing the much-loved Gringos. The new patio looks especially inviting, and if the margaritas are half as potent as they were at Gringos, Asada is sure to become a neighborhood favorite. Zuma, 701 Highland Ave. 404-522-2872. Asada, 1238 DeKalb Ave. 404-522-8666.
LET THEM EAT CAKE — Brasserie Le Coze will celebrate France's Independence Day on Wed., July 14, with a special prix fixe menu and plenty of French entertainment (yes, that means accordion players). The menu will include such classics as escargot, roast duckling, profiteroles and tarte tatin. The cost is $35 per person, with revelries beginning at 5:30 p.m. and continuing until the restaurant closes. 3393 Peachtree Road, Lenox Mall. 404-266-1440.
MAMMA MIA! — The unthinkable has happened: Even Italian restaurants are going low-carb. Sotto Sotto is now offering "naked ravioli," a pasta dish that eliminates the evil pasta. Spinach and ricotta cheese are blended together with parmesan and nutmeg to make low-carb dumplings. Mangia 101 enlisted the help of local fitness guru Steve Uria, owner of Eclipse One On One Fitness, to create new low-carb, low-fat menu items. Healthy options include roast chicken with fresh vegetable caponata and spelt (whole grain) pasta topped with spicy lobster-tomato sauce. Sotto Sotto, 313 N. Highland Ave. 404-523-6678. www.sottosottorestaurant.com. Mangia 101, 4058 Peachtree Road. 404-467-9531. www.mangia101.com.
IT'S A DATE — Jack Rabbit Lounge is doing a "Date Night" special every Saturday. Couples can get two salads, a pizza, a bottle of wine and admission to Tongue & Groove for $30. They throw in a goodie bag filled with candy and coupons. 3055 Bolling Way. 404-264-0135. www.jackrabbitlounge.com.
TAPAS REVISITED — Every Thursday night in the front room, Woodfire Grill dishes up a small selection of tapas paired with appropriate wines and sangria. Space is limited at this popular event — call 404-347-9055 for reservations. 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road. www.woodfiregrill.com.
BLOODY SUNDAYS — Dantanna's, the clubby seafood-and-steak house next door to Lenox Square, is offering a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar on Sundays from 12:30 p.m. until close. Cost is $5 per person, and you can create your own refreshing concoction from an assortment of mixes, spices and garnishes. 3400 Around Lenox Drive, Suite 304. 404-760-8873. www.dantannas.com.
CLEVER TWIST — If you find yourself shopping at Phipps Plaza on a Sunday afternoon, drop into Twist for a great dining deal: all the tapas you can eat for $10. 3500 Peachtree Road, Phipps Plaza. 404-869-1191. www.heretoserverestaurants.com.