There are plenty of hidden gems all around Atlanta and surrounding burbs. If everyone knew about these sparkles that make life a wonderful platform, well then, they wouldn’t be so precious anymore.
But sometimes these hidden gems are too good not to be shared, especially with those you know will appreciate them and not exploit their loveliness.
Vinings, a neighborhood in the West side of Atlanta is replete with unbuzzed eateries, from fine dining to holes in the walls. I speak mostly of places I’ve found by accident and of which I have become a faithful patron. As I continue to explore the small but kinda fancy area, I came across a trattoria nestled in a most unassuming, dark corner of a grocery store shopping center; and standing next to a liquor store. This is not exactly the real estate you want to claim when you’re serving up really good food from your land.
But, Taverna Fiorentina, a secluded, eclectic Italian eatery does its job in standing out amongst common joints. Unfortunately for them, you do have to know where they are to enjoy this authentic spot. I first ate there a few months ago to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Paulo Tondo, the outgoing and very hand-gestured Tuscan chef-owner brought out enough food to savor over a course of 3 hours. That would be 3 hours of eating osso bucco, pasta, ravioli, more pasta, steak, etc… It was like sitting at a round table with girlfriends who chatted up life with lots of gusto, amore and a healthy appetite. That’s the vibe you get when you dine at Taverna. It’s simple, romantic and inviting.
I was impressed with dinner but couldn’t fathom finishing everything that night.
So, lunch the next day was great.
My last visit just a few weeks ago was purposeful and on a different level of dining. It was set up as a strategic wine tasting by Guiseppe Brancatelli, a winemaker in the Tuscan Hills of Italy. The impresario brought his vino to the U.S. and made his national rounds of tastings, making Fiorentina his last stop, a great way to end his marketing tour.
Set in the private dining room of this small and intimate restaurant, a group of 20 vino connoissuers and buyers began the evening with a very familiar welcome. The winemaker, in quintessential Italian style, made his way around the table and introduced himself, kissing the ladies on both cheeks. A very lively man, he swirled his glass and insisted I have another glass of some house wine before dinner started.
Each course prepared by chef Paulo was paired with a Brancatelli wine, with the exception of two. We started with a tasty antipasto of Tuscan bread with a montage of olives, saturated in olive oil and garlic. The bread was crusty to perfection and instantly the entire table of guests became Italian-esque– arms started reaching across each other for more pane. The stuff was good. I passed on the salame, pancetta and proscuitto platter served alongside the olives, but it was intensely devoured as folks ate topped slices on the bread. A 2008 Demarie, Nebbiolo D.O.C. from Langhe was paired with the starters. Nebbiolo is not commonly seen and is more of a “baby barolo,” says Guiseppe. For my developing wine palate, it was light in color but really flavorful. It was lovely with the bread and juicy olives.
The first course was a wonderfully seasoned housemade veal ravioli with veal stock reduction and shaved truffles. It was nicely paired with Brancatelli’s 2008 Valle Delle Stelle, a lightly toasted wine fermented for 6 months in a French oak barrel, yielding a woodsy flavor. The notes of the wine brought out the earthiness of the light truffles in the dish. I’m a huge pasta lover and even more a truffle addict so this was my favorite dish of the evening, although I thought the 3rd wine topped it all off and knocked all others out.
Brancatelli’s 2007 Valle Del Sogno embodied the aromas, flavors and texture a perfect, go-to red should have. It was extremely smooth which could be a result of the 14-month fermentation in the same French oak barrel. This wine however is exclusively produced in a special vineyard. Sogno means “dream” in Italian. Brancatelli admits it was his childhood dream to one day make his own wine… this wine represents the realization of that dream and so no coincidence it’s his favorite of his entire line.
This is Brancatelli’s first year using French oak barrels and it seems to be working just fine for him and his operation. He’s not dissatisfied with a batch yet and in fact produces the best wines.
The Sogno was paired with home-style, family-sized braised rabbit with herbs in red wine. I liked it, but the wine outshined the dish. It would have been better paired with a light soup or a less game-y protein where the flavors of the wine would still allow you to enjoy the entrée.
Cheese platters and dessert ended the night that also left everyone delighted to have enjoyed 4 full glasses of new wine. The Moscato paired with the zucootto postre was like sippin on Grand Marnier cotton candy. It was so smooth and bucolic… I enjoyed a 3rd glass of it. And walked away, needing to acquire a bottle of the Sogno.
Chef Paulo took time and careful measure to craft a menu that would allow the wines to bring out the flavors of his personal dishes, yet leave taste buds enough room to explore the complexities of the wines. Short of the rabbit being a bit too flavorful and home-y for the wine, everything meshed beautifully. Just like the olives and pancetta and salame hold their own, the Nebbiolo was the logical pairing considering its immature makeup.
(Chef Paulo and Guiseppe Brancatelli, owner of Brancatelli Wines)
Aside from a fantastic wine tasting, Chef executes traditional Italian cooking methods and has established a real-deal, sexy ambiance where you feel as if you’re sitting in a musky piazza, even if you’ve never been lucky enough to dine in Italia. The kitchen noise is standard, filled with chatter of needing more basilica and garlic. I tested his quickness and asked him to fire me up some spinach, to which he was tickled and placated me… A pinch of salt in a searing pan, some butter and toss of the spinach.
I was served.
Taverna doesn’t purport to be the finest dining option, but it’s damn near close. It’s by far the best option for soulful, heartfelt, food with integrity dished out by a talented and approachable chef. He keeps it real–so infrequently seen in this sometimes caddy foodie town. No pretentiousness here. It’s like family, really.
For dinner, have the osso bucco and the eggplant pasta. Ask the bartender for a lemon basil cocktail. He’ll have you wanting to make your own Limoncello. And definitely make to peruse the extensive wine list, offering vinos from all over the world, now including Bracantelli. I recommend the Sogno, 2007
3324 Cobb Parkway Southeast
Atlanta, GA 30339-3888
(770) 272-9825 | web: TavernaFiorentina.com
Dinner: $16-$25 | Desserts: $7 | Glass of Wine: $7-15
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.