If you stand at just the right spot on Peachtree Street, between 11th and 12th streets, all you can see are glittering condo towers and Midtown worker bees in well-studied office-to-evening outfits. Throw in some yellow taxis and you can pretend — for one private, sheepish instant — that you’re in Manhattan.
The NYC fantasy will continue if you visit Ribalta — which has a Peachtree address but is embedded on 11th, kind of like those folks who move to Queens but keep an iron grip on their 212 area codes. The décor is trend-on-trend — with vintage industrial lighting abutting beachy bleached wood and rustic, woven strappery — and the prices are high. In one case, they’re even steeper than the prices at Ribalta’s other location in New York. The pizzas in pala — fluffy, rectangular pies made for two — are uniformly $28 in New York, according to Ribalta’s website. Down here, several of these pies sell for $30-$32.
This was one reason we skipped the pizzas in pala during a weeknight visit. Another: They are baked in an electric oven. We went for the Neapolitans, which meet their maker in the sexier brick hearth, flaming for all to see in the glass-enclosed kitchen.
A word about the crust on these 12-inch pies. According to Ribalta partner and general manager Gabriele Besozzi, the yeast is derived from a “mother” born 200 years ago in Naples. As if that wouldn’t give the dough enough fizz, each batch rises for more than 72 hours.
I wish I could say the results are historically delicious. The crust is extremely light and fluffy and beautifully blistered at the rim. But it’s also way too tangy and leaves a bitter aftertaste. Sourdough pizza crust, as it turns out, shouldn’t be a thing.
Is it forgivable? Sure, mostly because the crust is wafer thin and topped with excellent accouterments, especially the peppery broccoli rabe and sweet Italian sausage on the namesake white pie. I also loved the smoky cotto ham and wonderfully oily porcini shavings on the red-sauced capricciosa.
Alas, nothing could salvage our rigatoni. The tomato sauce was overly sweet. The pasta was too thick and toothsome. The buffalo mozzarella chunks were heated into nubs of rubber and the eggplant was unpleasantly oil-soaked.
Ribalta’s list of small plates is long, which well serves the happy-hour crowd thronging the bar. We asked our server for suggestions. Maybe the minty, garlicky zucchini scapece? The baby octopus with Sicilian capers? He pushed the fried calamari and the baked Brussels sprouts. Really? Well, OK. We went for the sprouts and were sorry we did. They were soft, mealy and army green, as if they’d been steamed for us by a stern nonna. The only flavor (or texture) came from crisp chiplets of pancetta scattered on the sprouts. My daughter plucked them out with her fingers and left the rest.
This pick-and-choose approach is actually good policy for Ribalta. If I were to go again, I would choose it for its glam factor rather than its food. I’d enjoy the Midtown location, the flutes of prosecco, and the layered, golden lighting that makes everyone look fabulous. I’d happily order a Neapolitan pizza, a can’t-mess-it-up salad and leave the rest.
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