Fia’s hearth still flickering

Outdoor dining spaces at hotel may be restaurant’s ‘saving grace.’

What comes to mind when you picture a hotel restaurant and bar? If the thought conjures an image of a fancy, uppity place with prices to match, and a safe impersonal menu that is only sometimes decently executed, I’ve got a hotel restaurant and bar to tell you about that belies the stereotype.

That was the opening of a restaurant review written in mid-March. It never was published, as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution temporarily ceased running reviews when the pandemic forced dine-in service to shut down.

However, now that Fia Restaurant & Mr. B. Bar is up and running again, it’s time to talk about it, albeit in the context of takeout.

Located inside the boutique Burgess Hotel in Buckhead, Fia is fancy, but not uppity. In fact, it’s quite neighborhoody. Prices are competitive. The menu is built around a wood-fired hearth, inspiration for the restaurant’s name, which means “flickering fire” in Italian.

Fia is the brainchild of husband-and-wife owners Burges and Freny Jokhi. It has an expansive bar, clusters of cushy chairs around low tables, a library with sofas that flank a fireplace, and a dimly lit dining room, with seating for parties ranging from two to 12.

Tables of 12 aren’t happening in these COVID-19 times. Since reopening the restaurant in May, a dozen people in total might take a seat throughout the night.

With outdoor spaces proving to be the preferred spots for gathering during the pandemic, areas at the hotel that hadn’t been opened during winter may prove to be what Burges Jokhi called a “saving grace” — a front outdoor patio that offers the restaurant’s full menu, and a back poolside lounge.

Being a hotel restaurant may be an advantage for Fia. “If it wasn’t inside the hotel, I don’t think we would have been able to reopen,” Jokhi said. The hotel never shut down, but overnight occupancy has plummeted. Lunch traffic dried up, too, because people are working from home. Fia, once a venue for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, currently is open only for dinner.

Although the staff has been whittled down, Executive Chef Daniel Porubiansky is still there. His 30-year career includes working with Günter Seeger at the Ritz-Carlton, for Anne Quatrano’s Bacchanalia, Star Provisions and defunct Quinones, and, most recently, at Century House Tavern in Woodstock. The way that he and his team worked that wood hearth was impressive, and for more than meaty proteins (order the wood-fired hummus and you’ll see what I mean).

In my unpublished review of Fia, I wrote about the cordiality of the front of the house, offering “white-cloth service sans pretension.”

The staff size may be smaller, the restaurant and bar’s hours trimmed, the menu streamlined for pandemic times, but the genuineness of their hospitality remains.

Fia’s hearth — and heart — are still flickering.

And, in case you were wondering, the unpublished review was a solid two stars.

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Menu: Mediterranean-inspired, featuring a wood-fired grill; abbreviated bar menu

Alcohol: wine, beer and cocktails

What I ordered: wood-fired hummus, tomato risotto arancini, handmade rigatoni, grilled whole branzino and lamb kebabs. All but the kebabs were familiar from my visits to Fia in early March. Three months later, they still were superb, even as takeout. The hummus is unique: It comes warm, and features Vidalia onions that have been cooked overnight in the low embers of the wood hearth. An order comes with ample lavash for smearing. The arancini offered a moist interior, nicely crisp exterior and a sweet and sour red pepper sauce, if you're a dipper. The restaurant makes its own fresh pasta. The rigatoni was a toothsome al dente. It had some heat from spicy fennel sausage and Calabrian chili. The tomato-vodka sauce brought everything together. A slight smokiness clung to the flesh of the whole, deboned branzino, but the delicate flavor remained intact. The accompanying fennel-citrus salad offered a clean counterbalance. The thick-cut lamb kebabs were tender, and the bed of basmati rice aromatic with citrus, Indian spices and toasted almonds.

Service options: order via phone; no delivery

Safety protocols: following all state-mandated COVID-19 safety guidelines; hand sanitizer at front entrance.

Address, phone: 3600 Piedmont Road NE, Atlanta; 404-949-1450

Hours: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays



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