What is happening to Italian food in Atlanta? The fact that the Castellucci family is soon moving Double Zero from the Perimeter to Emory is bad news for the suburbs. The fact that the Karatassos clan has closed Veni Vidi Vici is bad news for the city. People are whispering that the next great Italian hope is il Giallo, a block away from Double Zero and possessed of most of the key staff from Veni Vidi Vici. Can il Giallo capture what is best about both places and still project a personality of its own?
Karatassos and Castellucci are names synonymous with exceptional service. For il Giallo, I waited four additional months beyond my normal three, because I hoped to see a waitstaff that could really show me a good time. The service was not bad, as servers were respectful and attentive, and the plates arrived pretty quickly. The service was not good, as servers weren’t very personable, nor did they seem to possess much deep menu knowledge. I’m not talking about wanting a long pontification about the farm where one pig was raised; I just like to hear familiarity with and enthusiasm for the culture of a restaurant.
If you’re bringing the kids or having a business lunch, maybe you don’t care about that higher standard of service. Can il Giallo hack it on food alone? On taste, there is no question that il Giallo is producing the best, freshest pasta on the planet, thanks to Jamie Adams. Watching him at the chef’s table making my pasta right there in the dining room and then eating that pasta just eight minutes later is truly the greatest thing about il Giallo, and there is no experience like it on offer at any place else in the entire metro.
The day’s special was a fettuccine with greenery and speck, easy on the oil for a lightness that made it hard to put down my fork. We also ordered the agnolotti with brown butter, sage and pecans because this dish had been featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” It tasted delicious, too, but I was left with three questions. One, where is the Big Green Egg smoked flavor I was promised on the duck stuffed inside those delightful pasta purses? The sauce was drowning it out. Two, why is this classic staple of November menus available to me in May? I guess they worry about needing to capitalize on television publicity, when in fact the pastas can speak for themselves. Three, why is this plate so ugly?
That last question is tough to answer and it was one I repeatedly had to ask myself through the meal. No attention was given to nicely presenting the agnolotti or even to simply prevent the pasta from smushing together because of cramping on the plate. The prosciutto and cantaloupe was likewise hard to photograph in its symmetrical but lazy way, even though this dish is usually very easy to make pretty. Even our panna cotta looked so lonely and naked on its plate. If you’re not keen on Instagram, perhaps weak plating doesn’t concern you.
The best thing we ate that wasn’t pasta was the grilled octopus. Its medallions de-emphasize the tentacle, so it’s a good entry point if you’ve been afraid to try other octopus dishes increasingly proliferating in the city. The olive oil smashed potatoes beneath the octopus are delicious and the first few bites were great, only to be later overpowered by too much pickled red onion on top.
My sense is that il Giallo just doesn’t quite know itself well enough yet. Having also been granted honorable discharge from Buckhead Life, General Manager Leonardo Moura should have a confidence in his attention to service detail that rises to the skill level of Chef Adams’ pasta. The kitchen may likewise still be feeling out differences between its own instincts and the restaurant group oversight with which it had been saddled for so long. It’s not yet worthy of date night, but il Giallo is one to watch.
Il Giallo is located at 5920 Roswell Road, B-118, in Sandy Springs. ilgialloatl.com.