REVIEW: New Westside mozzarella bar hits the mark

Mozzarella bar Bastone is the latest restaurant from Pat Pascarella and his Porchetta Restaurant Group. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

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Mozzarella bar Bastone is the latest restaurant from Pat Pascarella and his Porchetta Restaurant Group. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Just when you thought Atlanta had every kind of restaurant, pasta man Pat Pascarella opens a mozzarella bar on Howell Mill Road.

Bastone, part of the fast-growing Porchetta Restaurant Group (the White Bull, Grana, the forthcoming Alici), is in a space that once beckoned folks hungry for Bocado’s famed burger stack. Now, it is home to a new attraction: a mozzarella flight.

Since Bastone’s early March debut, the mozz has been so popular that Executive Chef Alex Bolduc had to purchase a second cooler, just to keep enough cheese in stock.

There’s constant floor traffic in this light-filled, industrial-chic space, as runners drop off wooden boards holding a chef’s selection of five of the 10 mozzarellas on the menu, and pick up other boards with nothing left on them but milky white liquid.

Bastone’s mozz tasting is a fine way to spend $35, especially since the majority of the featured soft cheeses are domestic. Offering a range of creamy textures and consistencies, they hail from North Carolina, California, Wisconsin (the Bel Gioso brand you can find at the grocery store) and from the restaurant itself.

If $35 is too much, $12 will get you an order of the house masterpiece, fatt’ a mano. And, the show is free when you grab a seat at the bar, to watch staff squeeze, stretch, fold and shape the mozzarella into a firm (compared with the others on the menu), flat round that hits the mark for salinity. It’s finished with olive oil, salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper.

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Grab a seat at Bastone's bar to watch the staff squeeze, stretch, fold and shape mozzarella. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Grab a seat at Bastone's bar to watch the staff squeeze, stretch, fold and shape mozzarella. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Combined ShapeCaption
Grab a seat at Bastone's bar to watch the staff squeeze, stretch, fold and shape mozzarella. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

There’s also a salumi bar. Like the cheeses, they are sold individually (thinly shaved, 32-month-aged prosciutto di Parma that will melt in your mouth), or as a flight. None currently is prepared in-house, but cooked products are coming.

The pastry-baking crew likewise is trying to keep up with the frenzy of focaccia orders, an essential pairing for the cheese. Two types of this Italian bread — liguria and barese — are available. The former, my recommendation, brings a thick square with subtle earthy notes of rye flour. The latter, a fried round, was oily and heavy.

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Bastone's cocktails include the Ace of Clubs, a riff on a dirty martini. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Bastone's cocktails include the Ace of Clubs, a riff on a dirty martini. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

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Bastone's cocktails include the Ace of Clubs, a riff on a dirty martini. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Bastone is billed as having been designed to feel like an all-day happy hour, and, indeed, I’d be content to nibble away on cheese, cured meat and a glass of most anything on the beverage menu.

An Italian-focused wine list from beverage director Anthony Panzica is approachable, yet explorable. A tight beer list might bring a new-to-you Italian brew. And, cocktails developed by Leo Briggs are superbly aligned with the restaurant’s menu, and are well-executed. A prime example is the Ace of Clubs, a spin on a dirty martini that brightly accentuates the gin’s juniper and tomato botanicals through pasta water and caper brine.

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Bastone's arancini combines two traditional fillings — cheese and ciccioli — into a cheesy, meaty, spicy rice ball. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Bastone's arancini combines two traditional fillings — cheese and ciccioli — into a cheesy, meaty, spicy rice ball. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

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Bastone's arancini combines two traditional fillings — cheese and ciccioli — into a cheesy, meaty, spicy rice ball. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Round 2 should include arancini, which showcases what Bolduc has learned after more than two decades in fine dining. It combines two traditional fillings for these Italian rice balls — cheese and ciccioli (crispy pork scraps) — with springtime mint and peas, making for a cheesy, meaty, spicy bite.

Other hot and cold small plates weren’t as sensational. Amberjack crudo brought overly thick cuts of fish and a tableside drowning of a buttermilk-basil oil dressing that confused my taste buds. Roasted broccoli, classified as a Caesar salad, felt akin to cold broccoli leftovers. And, a sunchoke appetizer basically was a hash that might better be served as bruschetta.

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Casoncelli with shrimp and a sauce spiked with ’nduja is part of a rotating menu of eight house-made pastas at Bastone. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Casoncelli with shrimp and a sauce spiked with ’nduja is part of a rotating menu of eight house-made pastas at Bastone. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Combined ShapeCaption
Casoncelli with shrimp and a sauce spiked with ’nduja is part of a rotating menu of eight house-made pastas at Bastone. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Pasta is Pascarella’s wheelhouse, and, at Bastone, he lets Bolduc, chef de cuisine Cory Brown and sous chef Blake Jones have fun.

A rotating menu of eight pastas, all made in-house, showcases an array of flours, textures, shapes and flavors that hail from throughout Italy: stuffed casoncelli with shrimp and a divine, lusciously silky, ’nduja-spiked sauce; cresc tajat, a pasta made with polenta, whose sausage sugo and ricotta hit the spot like biscuits and gravy; and orecchiette paired with roasted bone marrow — the bone standing upright with a spoon to scoop the unctuous, melty gelatin.

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One of the desserts available at Bastone is a buttermilk doughnut with a scoop of tarragon gelato. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

One of the desserts available at Bastone is a buttermilk doughnut with a scoop of tarragon gelato. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Combined ShapeCaption
One of the desserts available at Bastone is a buttermilk doughnut with a scoop of tarragon gelato. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

As for dessert, pass on a dry olive oil cake and point instead to a buttermilk doughnut with a scoop of tarragon gelato.

Although Bastone’s early weeks have seen some misses, every dish promises fresh, reimagined flavors. And, with a staff as energized and creative as this, there’s reason to return repeatedly, just as you did when burger stacks were being built within these storied walls.

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Bastone is located on Howell Mill Road, in the space formerly occupied by Bocado. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Bastone is located on Howell Mill Road, in the space formerly occupied by Bocado. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

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Bastone is located on Howell Mill Road, in the space formerly occupied by Bocado. Courtesy of Kathryn McCrary Photography

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

Credit: Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC

BASTONE

Food: mozzarella bar, Italian small plates and pastas

Service: friendly, attentive

Best dishes: fatt’ a mano mozzarella, arancini, charred polpo, pasta (casconelli, cresc tajat, orecchiette), buttermilk doughnut

Vegetarian selections: numerous mozzarella options, sunchoke caponata, various salads, always at least one pasta dish; diets and allergies are noted at reception desk

Alcohol: yes (Italian-focused beverage program)

Price range: $$$-$$$$

Credit cards: all major cards accepted

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 4-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Children: sure, but this mostly is an adult destination

Parking: valet or paid street parking

MARTA station: Midtown

Reservations: recommended

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: average

Takeout: order via phone (no delivery)

Address, phone: 887 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-252-6699

Website: bastoneatlanta.com