Now celebrating its 25th anniversary year, Fifth Group Restaurants (South City Kitchen, La Tavola Trattoria, the Original El Taco, Alma Cocina, Lure, Ecco) recently opened its most ambitious venture to date. Ecco Buckhead is located in a 9,500-square-foot free-standing building on Peachtree Road at the edge of Phipps Plaza.
Designed by the Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, the 240-seat restaurant features tile floors and soaring ceilings with a varied collection of chandeliers. A spacious bar and lounge area, and a 50-seat cafe-style patio and garden offer more casual dining experiences, while a banquet hall-like dining room allows guests a peek into the open kitchen.
On the “chef-driven European” menu from executive chef Andrea Montobbio, there are still many signature items from the original Ecco in Midtown, including cured meats and cheeses, taste and share plates, and flatbreads.
But Montobbio — an Italian transplant who draws inspiration from neighborhood restaurants in Spain, Italy and France — is making his mark with dishes only available in Buckhead, such as wood-grilled dorade with acquapazza panzanella and gremolata, squid ink conchiglie with braised cuttlefish, bone marrow sugo and tuna heart bottarga, and risotto aquerello cacio e pepe with parsnip crema.
The Buckhead beverage program is led by beverage manager Erin Mason and Fifth Group partner and director of food and beverage standards Vajra Stratigos, who complement the flavors of Montobbio’s menu with international wines and inventive house cocktails.
Last week, I spoke with Stratigos and Montobbio about opening the new Ecco Buckhead.
“There are very few people who are doing free-standing restaurants like this, anymore,” Stratigos said. “There’s something about coming to a restaurant like this that takes on this iconic kind of feel. It’s a destination. It’s a special place with a special vibe.”
“The kitchen is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever worked in,” Montobbio said. “I feel like the kitchen is an extension of the dining room. It really ties in with the decor in the dining room.”
Discussing the menu, Stratigos and Montobbio said it was something they’d been working on for a long time.
“We’ve been testing or trying dishes, talking about the concept and what we want to introduce in Atlanta,” Montobbio said. “We were doing some traveling, and with our research, we came up with the understanding that Atlanta was missing some things.”
“We did take a trip to Italy and a trip to Spain, and we staged in multiple kitchens in those countries to get the juices flowing,” Stratigos said. “And Andrea is from Northern Italy, so we already have that going. But this is not an Italian restaurant, and we really needed to make this a multiethnic European cultural thing.
“If you travel a lot to Europe now, you realize that there are real clear distinctions between places that are in little towns and places that are in Prague or Paris or Milan. The food there is not old-school traditional European. It’s fairly forward and modernist, and it’s happening all around Europe in a big way.”
One of Montobbio’s favorite creations along those lines is wood-fired focaccia with seasonal cicchetti, which are savory, European-influenced spreads served in jars.
“It all comes together with this beautiful focaccia that is made in-house,” Montobbio said. “You put it in the middle of the table and people just love to nibble on it.
“The risotto is another simple dish. It’s all about a few very good ingredients. We use an aged rice from the Piedmont, and it’s very, very focused. So many restaurants today have dishes that are so complicated with so many ingredients going in so many directions.”
Asked about the beverage program, Stratigos said it was designed to connect to the culinary program and the restaurant as a whole.
“We wanted to get back to the idea that there be a connectivity between the beverage program and everything else. If you have a specialty cocktail menu, it should make sense with everything else that’s on the menu.
“Going back to that model, we tried to create something that’s very Ecco, very Fifth Group, very Atlanta 2018, and very sessionable. They’re all a family. And that’s tied to the wine program, because Ecco has always been a wine-focused and cocktail kind of place.”
3586 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta. 404-347-9558, buckhead.ecco-atlanta.com.
More images from a First Look at Ecco Buckhead
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