Redfish with nicely crisped skin is served at Adalina with colorful red-wine-braised onions, satsuma segments, sweet-potato gnocchi, pistou and ceci peas. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Review: Adalina masters the relaxed and rustic style of Italian eating

For a brief enchanted moment a few years back, Joshua Hopkins presided over a hard-to-find Italian restaurant on Buckhead’s West Paces Ferry Road called STG Trattoria. Owned by Bocado’s Brian Lewis, STG didn’t have the staying power to make it iconic. But the handmade pizzas and pastas produced by Hopkins and his peers during its 1 1/2-year run were masterful, and somewhat ahead of their time for this city.

Some great cooks passed through that kitchen.

Executive chef Joshua Hopkins of Adalina. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

Today, Hopkins’ then-pasta-maker, Bruce Logue, presides over his own spot, Inman Park’s terrific BoccaLupo, and Hopkins’ then-chef de cuisine, Adam Waller (Sotto Sotto, Bocado), recently took over as executive chef at Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South, just as Hopkins vacated that very position after almost five years.

Hopkins’ new home is Adalina, where he teams with owner Dennis Lange to revisit the modern Italian fare he flirted with at STG: luxurious pastas, rustic pizzas and ambitious entrees that showcase the local and the seasonal.

As a fan of STG and before that the meat-centric Abattoir (Hopkins proved his mettle as opening chef of both), I’m stoked that he’s returned to a style that suits him so handsomely.

Adalina, in the tucked-away Post Riverside development, underwent extensive remodeling before it opened. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

In a beautifully refashioned blue and white room that imbues the tree-canopied Post Riverside property with a welcome blast of sunny Mediterranean light, Hopkins is cooking well, and the restaurant honors Adalina’s intentions of being an all-purpose neighborhood gathering spot where you can enjoy a drink and a snack, an affordable lunch, or a multicourse meal that you curate to your liking.

This is not a red-sauce kind of joint, though Hopkins’ ricotta meatballs or pork-cheek ragu will satisfy any old-school cravings you harbor.

Why not start your repast with a bowl of ceci peas sprinkled with basil salt? “Ceci” is Italian for chickpea, and here a legume that is often thought of as mushy is transformed by deep-frying, a process that changes the texture into something between chewy and crunchy. They are cocktail nuts, almost, and you know what that means: Time for a drink.

Try a Negroni, an Italian Spritz (Aperol and prosecco) or maybe just a classic martini. I’m not sure what James Bond would think of the Giacomo Bond. For this Italian riff on a vodka martini, a touch of sweet-bitter Aperol is added to vodka and dry vermouth. (Shaken, not stirred, I presume?) My dinner guest was polite enough to hang with Giacomo until the end, but the herby drink tasted like a clash of aperitifs to me. The Italian Aviation, with Malfy gin from the mother country, was better. Strong, violet-hued and bracing, it was faithful to the original Aviation cocktail.

Hopkins told me in a phone interview that his menu is meant for sharing.

Adalina’s pork-jowl pizza is a model of simplicity, allowing the restaurant’s dough and sauce to shine. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

To me, that means pulling apart one of his spectacular thin-crust pies. I still dream about his pork-jowl pizza: Simple in design but rich in flavor, it’s brushed with red-pepper pesto and scattered with pecorino, scallions and fatty little bits of cured and smoked pork. The jowl renders as it bakes, packing every bite with chewy-salty goodness. At dinner, there’s a beef bacon pizza (with Brussels sprouts, black olives and butternut squash) and a mushroom (ricotta, fig preserves, arugula and speck), among other pies.

Adalina’s strawberry and golden beet salad is like a ray of winter sunshine. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

Hopkins also has a clever touch with salads. Right now, I’m crazy about his lovely, spring-leaning toss of frisee and endive with Florida strawberries, golden beets, crunchy walnuts and salty-creamy Gorgonzola. At lunch, you’ll feel good about eating his wild rice salad, a nice balance of grains, butter lettuce, radicchio, dates, radishes, pistachios, fennel.

Every dinner here should include a pasta.

I like sharing one (or two) between appetizers and entrees. Hopkins makes rabbit sausage to go with his cavatelli. He pairs bucatini with meatballs, stuffs agnolotti with ricotta and gussies up his tagliatelle with short rib, sunchokes, kale and walnuts. But the noodle for me is the pappardelle, in which a pasta that is already bright with egg is slathered with garlic-crab butter and tossed with additional chunks of blue crab. Pure decadence.

At some point, you may want to switch to wine. The red that always works is the Querceto blend, from Chianti. Kept on tap at cellar temp, it’s an excellent value at $9 a glass, and goes with nearly everything, from braised chicken legs to hanger steak.

Entrees are where Hopkins shows off his chef-y side. Some would argue that they are cluttered. I say “au contraire” to that.

A hunk of impeccably grilled redfish is thoughtfully served skin side up, to keep it crispy. Flip it over and you’ll discover red-wine-braised onions, fennel, satsuma segments, and tiny little pillows of sweet-potato gnocchi. Drag these components around the vivid green pistou (a loose, pesto-like puree of basil, parsley, kale and lemon zest), and you’ll be amazed at how the flavors tease one another out. Using what’s available in winter, with minimal manipulation, Hopkins elevates a piece of mild fish into a superstar. That’s masterful.

Adalina serves a hearty, rustic version of braised lamb shank with chickpeas, tomatoes, olives and cabbage. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Photo: For the AJC

Now to his braised lamb shank: Where many chefs would be tempted to gild the lily with red wine and root veggies, Hopkins goes in the other direction, with a chunky almost-stew of tomatoes, chickpeas, Castelvetrano olives and cabbage. Again, he shows a knack for lightening up a traditionally heavy dish.

Alas, I can’t quite work up the same enthusiasm for pastry chef Zibaa Sammander’s sweets. I do like the tanginess of her Ellijay apple fritters, which are neither terribly sweet nor terribly fruity. But the crust of the dark-chocolate budino tart was more hard than tender, and the overall effect, despite Chantilly cream and white chocolate shavings, was a wash.

Since its opening in September, Adalina has gone from rather sleepy to jam-packed on weekends. No doubt Hopkins has a lot to do with this. But Lange, an original co-founder of 5 Seasons Brewing, is hardly a novice. Adalina is a friendly place with a flair for cooking that is somehow both polished and rustic at the same time.

All these things make it a winner to me.

ADALINA

Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)

Food: contemporary Italian

Service: front of house is super friendly; servers can get a little harried at peak

Best dishes: Ceci peas. Rice salad. Strawberry and golden beet salad. Ricotta meatballs. Pork-jowl pizza. Blue crab pappardelle. Redfish. Braised lamb shank.

Price range: $$$

Credit cards: all major

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 5:30-10 p.m. Saturdays. (Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.)

Children: OK

Parking: free parking on street and in deck, to the right of the restaurant

MARTA station: no

Reservations: accepted

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: moderate

Patio: yes, weather permitting

Takeout: yes

Address, phone: 4403 Northside Parkway NW, Number 150, Atlanta. 470-851-1031, adalinaatlanta.com

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