Feedbag - The pasta principle

Noodling around at Midtown mainstay Pasta da Pulcinella

It's a well-known back story: Pasta da Pulcinella started life as a scruffy hole-in-the-wall on Peachtree Street. The place achieved near legend status for its cheap prices and fresh, simple pastas. The service — what there was of it — was indifferent at best, surly at worst. But there was no denying the place was charming in its own strange way.

After a few years, Pulcinella grew up. They relocated to swankier digs on a quiet Midtown side street. They expanded their menu and raised the prices. Many were unhappy with the change, and predicted the demise of a restaurant that had gotten too big for its britches.

The restaurant has no doubt grown more sophisticated over time, but it's still kept a down-to-earth vibe. The space feels slightly mazelike, as many converted bungalows do, but a pale color palette of creams and ivories keeps the space airy. The dining room is elegantly rustic, with wood-topped tables and Italian etchings on the walls. Dowdy, uncomfortable ladder-back chairs are my only complaint with the decor. There's no slouching in these cruelly straight-backed seats.

All discomforts were forgiven once the food arrived. A Caprese salad with juicy, ripe tomatoes that sandwiched silky slices of fresh mozzarella was anointed with fruity olive oil and a dusting of cracked pepper. If there's a more luscious summertime dish, I don't know it. The Caesar salad was almost its equal: Fragrant, musky Caesar dressing clung to crisp romaine leaves and homemade croutons.

Pastas are the centerpiece of the menu — aside from a few nightly specials, Pulcinella doesn't offer main courses. Fresh linguine tossed with vibrant basil pesto was simple and satisfying. Ravioli di funghi combined the woodsy flavors of mushrooms and rosemary. The ravioli were intensely rich, but a topping of fresh tomatoes and julienned zucchini lightened things up.

Tortelli di mele are, without question, Pulcinella's crowning glory. Once you've tried them, you'll be hard-pressed to order anything else on the menu. Pasta pillows stuffed with sauteed Granny Smith apples, sausage and parmesan are tossed in a sage brown butter sauce. The dish walks a delicate line between sweet and savory: Too far in one direction or the other, and it wouldn't work. But it comes together beautifully, garnished with a drizzle of caramel around the rim of the plate.

The service, though improved since the old days, can still be indifferent. Our server disappeared halfway through the meal and was replaced with someone new. When we asked him for dessert suggestions, he shrugged and said, "They're all good." Gee, thanks for the help.

But clunky service and uncomfortable chairs aside, Pulcinella has plenty going for it. It's unpretentious, unabashedly romantic, and a good dining deal. In a city where tastes and trends change with the breeze, it's gratifying to see Pulcinella thriving.

''Covering Brookhaven to Inman Park.Dining events

SOMETHING IN THE ATMOSPHERE — On Thurs., Aug. 5, Atmosphere Restaurant hosts an evening of new wine arrivals from Argentina and Spain paired with epicurean creations from the kitchen. The event runs from 7-10 p.m. and costs $25 per person. 1620 Piedmont Ave. 678-702-1620. www.atmospherebistro.com.

LET'S TALK CHOP — Learn from one of Atlanta's brightest culinary talents Sat., Aug. 7: Chef/owner Joël Antunes will teach a cooking class at his eponymous restaurant. The class starts at 10 a.m. and costs $125, which includes a three-course lunch and wine. Only 10 spaces are available. 3290 Northside Parkway. 404-233-3500. www.joelrestaurant.com.

SUMMER SIPPING — Through the end of the summer, Eno in Midtown is hosting "Summer Breeze" wine tastings every Wednesday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. $10 gets you tastes of 10 wines and a complimentary plate of tapas. Wine experts will be on hand to educate patrons about the featured wines. During the month of August, Eno spotlights the wines of France's Loire Valley. 800 Peachtree St. 404-685-3191. www.eno-atlanta.com.

ART OF THE MENU — The works of local artist Kathryn Millsaps Morris are the focus of a special dinner at the Inman Park Patio on Wed., Aug. 11. Morris specializes in custom murals, trompe l'oeil, gilding, marbling and decorative finishes. 1029 Edgewood Ave. 404-659-5757. www.inmanparkpatio.com.

WINE WEDNESDAYS — Head over to the Food Studio on Wed., Aug. 11, for the restaurant's August wine tasting. The theme: "Sauvignon Blanc — U.S. vs. France vs. New Zealand." The tasting runs from 5:30- 7 p.m. and costs $20 per person (hors d'oeuvres included). Come as you are — no reservations necessary. Through November, Fifth Group Restaurants (Food Studio, South City Kitchen, La Tavola and Sala) is hosting an ongoing wine series. A Fifth Group Wine Wednesday Passport, which guests receive at the first tasting they attend, will be stamped at each event. Nine stamps earn a complimentary 10th tasting. 887 W. Marietta St., K-102. 404-815-6677. www.fifthgroup.com.

A TOAST TO THE TOMATO — It was such a smash hit last summer, La Tavola is bringing back its Tomato Fest. The festival runs from Thurs., Aug. 12-Sun., Aug. 22, and features a special four-course prix-fixe menu (including soup or salad, appetizer, entree and cheese course for dessert). Each course features tomatoes as the star ingredient. Items on the tomato menu are also available a la carte. The cost is $29 plus tax and gratuity, and a paired wine flight is an additional $14. 992 Virginia Ave. 404-873-5430. www.fifthgroup.com.''

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