Alici doesn’t quite transport diners to the Amalfi Coast, but there are visual and auditory reminders of Italy, such as the tile flooring and decorative tile squares above the open kitchen that turn the expediting station — a homey wooden table — into a focal point at the restaurant’s entrance.
You can start your meal by slurping some oysters; offerings from different coasts change daily. The sweet, meaty naked jades from the warm waters of Alabama were a standout. Accompaniments, all house-made, included a handful of curly fennel crackers, cocktail sauce and a clean, tangy Champagne mignonette.
What to drink with oysters? Alici tries to make it easier to choose by denoting oyster- and fish-friendly wines on its printed menu. Among the two wines by the glass designated as oyster-appropriate, my party preferred the vermentino, an easy-drinking Sardinian white, to the gragnano, a funky rosado that tasted more like fizzy vinegar or kombucha. Alici’s friendly staff is happy to offer tastes from the all-Italian wine list, until you find your match.
From the cocktail list, the spiteful monk also was a good oyster pairing. Refreshing and balanced, with loads of lemon notes, this spritz captured the spirit of the Amalfi Coast in a glass.
Among the crudo selections, the dentice was a lovely presentation of snapper, topped with a scattering of pickled mushrooms, supremed grapefruit and chopped pistachios, and resting on cauliflower puree. But, the flavors were jumbled. Far better was the trota iridea, which brought a nice texture contrast of silky raw steelhead trout slivers and crunchy, battered, fried anchovies that did justice to the restaurant’s namesake sea creature.
Alici’s dive into regional Italian cuisine also includes socca, a savory pancake made from chickpea flour. By itself, the socca was rather bland, but topping options, such as earthy wild mushrooms with golden raisins that offered unexpected sweetness, made this category of starter worth recommending, especially for those who seek gluten-free eats.
The medley of fish and seafood in the fritto misto was battered and fried to an impressive, oil-free crispiness. This misto included veggies, but those flavors were not discernible, especially after a dip in a thick lemon aioli.
Pascarella has earned a reputation for pasta, and Alici Executive Chef Davis King and his team continue the tradition. The pasta here is exquisite — from strands of tagliatelle and scialatelli, to pillow-like gnocchi and horn-shaped squid ink campanelle.
However, the pasta sauces did not always impress. Lemon overpowered an egg yolk tagliatelle. The pomodoro sauce for gnocchi leaned toward sweetness. But, the campanelle neri hit the mark, pairing dark-as-night pasta with plump, white shrimp in a flavorful tomato sauce topped with crisped, minced garlic.
The second course at Alici is akin to ordering the meat main dish at a steakhouse: pick your fish (tile fish, mahi, halibut, snapper) and sauce (salsa verde, lemon vinaigrette, romesco, chicken broth, caramelized onion broth). The $31 tile fish we ordered was average. And, a two-person $40 order of whole flounder was a platter of overcooked, charred fish surrounded by unseasoned fennel slivers and orange segments.
Up and down the menu, Alici makes fine use of punchy regional flavors, such as anchovies, chile and citrus. Desserts, however, embraced citrus too much. The layered Milk Chocolate Passion was a thing of beauty, but the bitter side of passion fruit and kumquats overpowered the chocolate mousse and chocolate sponge cake. The burnt orange honey under a plate of blood orange upside-down cake had a similar sharp astringency, although the accompanying orange fennel gelato was a delightful sweet-savory treat that you can order on its own.
Still, Alici’s kitchen, bar and service staff deserve commendation for keeping up with a crowd whose energy and appetite grow as the night goes on. The scene warrants hanging out at the bar for a dozen oysters and sticking around for pasta and one more round of drinks.
2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: coastal Italian, with a focus on seafood
Service: excellent pacing for multi-course meals
Recommended dishes: oysters, steelhead trout and fried anchovy crudo, mushroom socca, gnocchi alla sorrentina, campanelle neri, insalata mixta, smoked endive
Vegetarian dishes: pummarola (tomato) socca, funghi socca, cauliflower soup, farro and apple salad, insalata mixta, egg yolk tagliatelle, gnocchi alla sorrentina, various side dishes
Alcohol: full bar
Price range: $$$-$$$$
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays
Parking: free lot
MARTA: 1.2 miles from Midtown station
Reservations: recommended on weekends
Outdoor dining: patio
Takeout: not recommended
Address, phone: 931 Monroe Drive NE, Atlanta. 404-876-1000
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