"The cheese is good," my kid says. "But it doesn't need all this sauce on it."
He's sitting in contemplation of a cheese plate at Double Zero Napoletana, the theatrical new Sandy Springs restaurant from the Castellucci family, who also owns Sugo and the Iberian Pig. The cheese in question is La Tur, the dense, bloomy triple cream from Piemonte. The sauce in question, despite being called a "tomato jam," is actually a simple tangy red sauce, and it comes drizzled over the cheese rather than on the side as an optional accompaniment. My son has declared the La Tur his least favorite of the cheeses on the plate, "but only because of the sauce." And he's inadvertently summed up the issues at work at Double Zero. There are some great ingredients on display here, and the food exhibits quality and originality. But much of the time, there's just too much stuff going on. It becomes hard to hear the tune for all the surrounding ruckus.
The restaurant, named for the high-quality Italian flour used to make its wood-fired pizzas, feels both personal and corporate. Members of the Castellucci family glide around the immense, modern wooded dining room, pausing at tables to assure customers they're there to help and host. Servers come to the table armed with a well-rehearsed spiel about the restaurant, how the menu works, where the cocktail list appears and which drinks in particular you should try. They will lob this speech at you regardless of protest or declared familiarity with things such as menus and drinks.
It is an awfully big menu, comprised of appetizers, salads, pizzas, pasta and entrées. If you have more than two people and you're in the mood for gluttony, order the L'arrosto, an insane $29 pound-and-a-half pork shoulder appetizer meant to feed the table. Served with pita-like pockets made from pizza dough and a plate of accompaniments, this hunk of oinky decadence presents pig at its most glorious: succulent, fatty, yielding. The only thing that keeps it from being the dish of the year is the accompaniments, which should be tangy and bracing to play against the meaty overload. Unfortunately, sugar rules most of the sauces and pickles, including a red cabbage slaw that's downright saccharine, and a jelly-like viscosity that tasted like slutty Chinese food. I made my peace with garlic mayo and slightly hot peppers, but wished there was more tang available.
Lack of tang was not a problem with a grilled octopus appetizer served over a white bean purée that tasted as though it was half sherry vinegar. I appreciate a kitchen that looks to amp up flavors, but here that amplification always seems to go three decibels too high. Eggplant caponata was outrageously sweet. Jams and honeys besmirch otherwise balanced dishes. There are a lot of raisins, in that eggplant, in pasta, all over the place. Raisins are great for a quick hit of sweetness, but can throw an already sweet dish way off course.
Veal osso buco had more savory appeal, with a cumin-heavy flour gravy and cauliflower purée that was a tad watery but tasty nonetheless. Double Zero does well with its big hunks of meat.
It also does well with pizzas, which have the right balance of tug and crisp in the crust, acid and sweetness in the sauce, and weight of toppings. While there are better pizzas around than Double Zero's, it's nice to see this level of quality trickle down and become the standard.
Drinks are a high point, from the wine list that's heavy on esoteric Italian varietals to the cocktails, which range from classic to inventive. The kitchen could take a cue from the mixologist here — drinks avoid sweetness and are generally more on the refreshing, balanced, even bitter side. I do take issue with one thing: the price of the double aged Negroni. I don't care if the oranges are aged in bourbon barrels for six weeks, Atlanta is not ready for a $15 cocktail. Especially one made with "well gin."
But something tells me that Atlanta and Sandy Springs are ready for Double Zero. The Castelluccis are a crowd-pleasing bunch, and the very same things that cause me concern about the food and service here — overkill — may be the very thing that endears the restaurant to many customers. I prefer a more subtle approach, but a loud, bawdy song and dance will always have its admirers.
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