One Fine Meal: Chef Jonathan Waxman back in fine form with new restaurant Baffi

At Baffi, you’ll find classics like roasted chicken (with rosemary potatoes and salsa verde) and kale salad. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At Baffi, you’ll find classics like roasted chicken (with rosemary potatoes and salsa verde) and kale salad. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

One never should dismiss the ability of the classics to wow us over and over again.

I know that, and you know that. But, even as I clicked “submit” on my takeout order from Baffi — the new Jonathan Waxman restaurant that occupies the old Donetto space on the Westside — I had little understanding of how my simple repast would satisfy me, like some desperately needed spring awakening.

Roasted chicken; oven crisped potatoes with rosemary and pecorino; kale salad with anchovy dressing, breadcrumbs and more pecorino: It’s not like these dishes are new — to me or the city — or that there isn’t plenty of praiseworthy cooking at Atlanta restaurants, old and new.

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Baffi’s antipasti plate includes smoked Italian sausage, prosciutto, cheese, candied pecans, caponata, toasted focaccia and more. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Baffi’s antipasti plate includes smoked Italian sausage, prosciutto, cheese, candied pecans, caponata, toasted focaccia and more. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

The night before, I’d ordered out from 8Arm, where the supremely gifted Maricela Vega will stage her last service April 17. What could top Vega’s fried trout tacos, crispy flautas stuffed with potato and sweet potato, and veritable garden of strawberries on sourdough?

Not a lot, it turns out. But, where Vega’s food dazzles with originality, Waxman’s feels as eternal as Rome.

Waxman, a California native who cooks like an Italian, and is known for New York’s Barbuto and Jams, closed his Brezza Cucina at Ponce City Market as the pandemic raged last summer. But, he didn’t lose his sense of humor or his commitment to feeding his Southern clientele.

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Jonathan Waxman’s Baffi opened Jan. 5 in the old Donetto space at Stockyards Atlanta in west Midtown. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jonathan Waxman’s Baffi opened Jan. 5 in the old Donetto space at Stockyards Atlanta in west Midtown. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Baffi is Italian for “mustache” and is a continuation of the theme Waxman started in 2004, with the opening of Barbuto, which means “bearded” in Italian. Andrew Cacioppo, who had been executive chef at Brezza, leads the Baffi kitchen. I must say, he does a stellar job, too.

If you aren’t familiar with Waxman’s signature dishes, look for the JWs sprinkled throughout the menu of meatballs, pastas, pizzas and proteins. Cacioppo’s fingerprints are on everything else, but, as I perused the menu late Saturday afternoon, some items had sold out, and I ended up with the JW gnocchi, JW roasted chicken and JW kale salad, plus a charcuterie board to start the meal, and a couple of seasonal desserts to finish it.

Baffi's rhubarb crostata is a lovely seasonal dessert. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Baffi's rhubarb crostata is a lovely seasonal dessert. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

The $23 antipasti plate — grilled Italian sausage, buttery prosciutto, fiore sardo (a pecorino from Sardinia), rhubarb mostarda, caponata and pecans candied with honey and sage — looked a little shaken when I opened the box, but such is the nature of takeout. No big deal. I loved the balance of sweet and savory tidbits, and the spread turned out to be a swell appetizer with a glass of rose.

The gnocchi (in a creamy puree with Vidalias and celery root) was beautifully executed and delicious, but the rich sauce will thicken if you get the dumplings to go. So, maybe save this one for a dine-in experience, or warm it gently once you get home.

For me, it all came together with the Waxman standards of roasted chicken (with those crunchy roasted potatoes and salsa verde) and the kale salad. Simplicity and fresh bright ingredients are the currency of this chef, and, boy, these dishes were on the money. I enjoyed them at Brezza and Barbuto, but I don’t remember being floored like this.

The sweets are all of a piece with the rest of the menu, which is to say: simple. I loved the rustic rhubarb crostata with a fat dollop of honey-vanilla creme fraiche (which held up quite well, even after a jaunt and a long rest at room temperature). I was happy to discover the biscuity strawberry and cream trifle, topped with chocolate-chip size meringues, pushed to one side of my fridge a couple of days after my visit. Like nearly everything Waxman, it seems better with age.

BAFFI

Menu: Italian

Alcohol: yes

Recommended dishes: antipasti, roasted chicken, kale salad, rhubarb crostata, strawberry trifle

Price range: appetizers and salads, $6-$23; mains, $19-$26; desserts, $6-$8

Service options: dine-in and takeout; no delivery

Outdoor dining: yes, quite a lovely area, with lounge seating and a fire pit

Experience: very nice. I was pleased to score the one parking space up front that’s marked for quick stops; otherwise, valet parking is complimentary. The dining room, surely one of the most commodious in town, has been brightened from its Donetto days. A small market near the check-in stand is stocked with pasta, olive oil and other staples, plus prepared cold foods, such as salsa verde, caponata, meatballs and salad kits, which may be ordered online for pickup. There’s a nice wine selection, too, with some great values.

Address, phone: 976 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta; 404-724-9700

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Website: baffiatlanta.com

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