Vegetarian selections: pastas and salads
Price range: $$-$$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays
Parking: lot parking
Reservations: necessary on weekends
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: rather loud when busy
Address, phone: 3167 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-500-2181
Storico Fresco Alimentari e Ristorante feels a little like a dream.
Oh, sure, we’ve all heard about that little market hidden away on a side street where everything is made from scratch, it feels casual enough for any weeknight but somehow has flawless service, it sources all the best ingredients, it has just the right glass of wine, and you’ll be sent home with a little box of something for lunch the next day.
But that shop isn’t real, right?
For years, Storico Fresco was not a restaurant at all, but a secret weapon in other Atlanta kitchens. Since opening a quiet wholesale kitchen a few years ago, owner Michael Patrick has supplied some of the finest fresh pasta served in Atlanta. A number of the city’s best chefs bought his, rather than make their own.
The first time I dropped in his small retail shop years ago, I couldn’t keep up with his casual familiarity with Italian specialties: lampredotto, acetosa, coniglio con porro. The words rolled off his tongue. But, even better, the pastas I brought home dazzled.
Now, Storico Fresco has expanded. The new restaurant is slightly hidden by the development at Peachtree Street and Grandview Avenue. If you park at their Peachtree Street address, you’ll see a lot of almost-finished, vacant retail space. Storico is hidden down the side street, a lower-level location shared with a gym.
When you step inside at night, you’ll find a space equally divided between kitchen and tables, with a cold case of fresh pasta and cheeses dividing the room. They have enough kitchen space to keep up with the wholesale accounts, but now you need not visit another chef to taste the wares.
There’s a lovely, casual quality to this room, sitting between the retail shelves of olive oil and dry pastas. It reminds maybe a little more of the newer caves à manger of Paris than the older-feeling alimentari of Rome.
But, forget Europe, this is Buckhead. Funny enough, the dining room at Storico reminds me most of the early days of Antico Pizza. Like Giovanni Di Palma’s hit pizzeria, Storico hits the balance of eating practically inside the controlled chaos of a kitchen. The menu’s more about tradition and ingredients than a particular chef. I hope this is the beginning of an Atlanta trend. This city has enough places with 30-foot ceilings and 300 seats.
But, if Antico leans more toward chaos, Storico leans toward control. The disarming surroundings are balanced by a wait staff that knows the wine list, doesn’t rush a thing and encourages a leisurely, satisfying meal.
The early bites tend to be simple, indulgent pleasures: a creamy ball of bufala mozzarella and a board of flawless prosciutto, pork meatballs swimming in red gravy and dripping with more bufala, squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and fried to a light crisp. The blossoms are a particular achievement: architecturally strong without a heavy batter, generous with warm cheese without being molten or overloaded.
A lighter touch comes with the spinach salad, a lemony vinaigrette tossed with shaved fennel and pistachios.
Best, though, was the zucchini carpaccio — shaved coins of zucchini topped with quenelles of salty ricotta and a big splash of red, mildly spicy pepperoncini vinaigrette. I ate this plate in a kind of exaggerated slow motion. I never wanted it to end.
Did I mention that wine list? Because one of those thin bites of lightly spicy zucchini would be best followed by a sip of Roero Arnais from Bruno Giacosa, a complex white that finishes dry, with a saline touch. The exclusively Italian list is not particularly long, but it does offer a surprising number of bottles by the glass at a quite reasonable markup. This is a wine list that encourages a little exploration.
Eventually — you’ll be ready for it — the main event here is pasta.
No doubt, your server will nudge you in the direction of the pi fasacc, which may ring in your ears as unfamiliar but whose taste is no such thing. These are little envelopes of pasta, folded pockets of lightly salty cheeses just touched with herbs, tossed in butter browned with sage and topped with a wilted little pile of spinach. You may have no known Italian relatives, but this still will taste like the comfort of home. When you learn that pi fasacc translates to “swaddled newborns,” that will make perfect sense. They look like one, but you’ll feel like one, too.
Perhaps, though, you’re looking for a meatier indulgence. The spaghetti all’Amatriciana is a spicy, rich sugo, full of the rich umami of tomato, onion and pancetta. The plate is served with a crisp disc of pancetta atop, like a Frisbee of Italian bacon, but the sauce is laden with it, rich strands of fatty, cured meat tangling with the expertly al dente spaghetti.
Which is not to say you won’t occasionally encounter a misstep. On the night that I tried the duck breast, the skin was crispy and the interior rosy, but the massive cut was unforgivingly tough. I had to fight it with my knife.
On occasion, a little dish, like a side of cauliflower and red pepper, can seem to have forgotten its flavor in the pan.
But there’s no greater indulgence I’ve tasted here than the lasagna, a massive boat of melting flat spinach noodles, bechamel, veal, beef and pork. It deserves a rich pairing. Maybe spring $16 for that glass of 2012 Barolo.
Taste the two of those, and you’ll know what I mean about a dream. Is this really a little neighborhood market tucked beneath a shopping center on a side street? On the way out, pick up a couple of things for lunch tomorrow, a box of octopus and potatoes, a few ingredients for the kitchen. After all, you’re just eating in a shop.