Poor Wayne — or anyone else in the car when I drive out Roswell Road toward Sandy Springs. Every quarter-mile turns up a memory of adolescence and, to my shock, they are usually far more pleasant than painful. I guess the atrophying, aging brain edits the past. By the time Alzheimer's arrives, I'll be knocking on the door of North Springs High School, happily anticipating Latin class.
During our drive to Cibo e Beve (4969 Roswell Road, 404-250-8988), we didn't cross I-285, but the restaurant belongs to the long stretch of the road that was literally devoid of any restaurants except a pizza joint and a cafeteria when my family moved to Sandy Springs. Not too far away, the city's first Taco Bell opened. Exotic.
Cibo e Beve occupies the end of Belle Isle Square, a fancy strip mall that also includes Food 101. The owners of the latter opened this new Italian restaurant with Linda Harrell, who is also executive chef. The interior is by ai3 and departs from its usual ultra-spare, postmodern look. It's not exactly Old World but it's cozy and warmly lit with a completely open kitchen. It does include standout flourishes like a zinc bar.
The culinary approach reminds me a bit of the new No. 246 in Decatur. It's Italian in inspiration and Harrell stresses local, seasonal ingredients with fanatical devotion. The best example I sampled — one that keeps my memory salivating — was a starter of fat local figs, split and stuffed with a dollop of Gorgonzola, wrapped loosely with prosciutto, skewered and grilled. I'd rather eat figs than anything on the planet, but I've encountered a lot of unripe ones on restaurant tables lately. These were perfect and the classic accompaniments didn't overwhelm the figs' creamy, nutty interior.
Another starter, hamachi crudo, was almost as memorable. Harrell puts strips of raw yellowtail on a plate with a Sicilian salmoriglio sauce that is classically made with lemon juice, olive oil and a few herbs. Harrell adds capers to the dish, which provide extra tang.
We split an order of orecchiette with barely bitter turnip greens and chopped, locally made sausage that provided an occasional fiery bite. Asiago cheese melted into the mix. I love seeing turnips put to such use.
As an entrée, I ordered the osso buco, or I should say a version of osso buco. Harrell is using a lamb shank rather than veal shank, and getting to the marrow was almost impossible, even with the appropriate fork provided. To my surprise, though, I encountered lots of marrow in the extremely rich sauce spiked with orange and fennel. Crushed new potatoes made the sauce extra accessible.
Harrell was actually not cooking the night of our visit. Sous chef Matthew Marcus sent word that I was getting the last lamb shank of the evening. "He hopes you like marrow," our server said. So, apparently I got an unusually marrow-thick sauce.
Wayne ordered a pizza topped with mozzarella, more local sausage and broccoli rabe. In a city obsessed with pizza these days, this one fell short of the mark even with the unusual rabe topping. A bit too thick, a bit too chewy for my taste, it might be just fine for the unobsessed.
Dessert? Forget it. We were overfed and had to pass on the tiramisù and cannoli, though we did wonder if Cibo e Beve might prepare the only decent cannoli in town. Someone let me know.
Service was smooth but, as with most new restaurants, there were glitches. When we received a basket of warmed olive bread, the couple at the adjoining table asked us how we'd scored bread. They'd been unable to convince the server to bring them any. No biggie.
Our meal ended with an almost surreal experience outside the restaurant. A huge, colorful moth fluttered in the air, circling us, touching us, dancing around our heads. Someone who was watching through the window came out to join us. Wayne reminded me that during a trip to Provence some years ago a moth crawled into my ear, requiring a trip to the emergency room. More memories to store under the label of Roswell Road.
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