Upscale Comfort Zone
Your favorite restaurant? No matter how demanding the gourmet, the reasons usually aren’t all about the food.
For most of us, good cooking is just the starting point for restaurants we love. Certain indefinable qualities come into play – maybe it’s where he proposed, where you used to take your dad, where you meet good friends. Being more than just a good restaurant requires a certain energy in the dining room, whether it’s barbecue or haute cuisine: Just sitting in that room makes you feel like one of the luckiest people in the world.
Achieving that joyous comfort zone can be even harder for upscale restaurants. They often try too hard or too little, relying on false friendship or chilly distance to assert their superiority. But after a few minutes in Antica Posta, the Tuscan restaurant in Buckhead, I thought about the 1980s movie, My Beautiful Laundrette. Yes, it’s a stretch: This sophisticated, stylish environment in the small yellow house in Buckhead has only one thing in common with the film’s failing laundry in a tough section of London, taken on by two creative young immigrants: With grit and determination, they turn it into a smashing success – transforming it into a community gathering spot.
Brothers Marco and Chef Alessandro Betti have managed as much at Antica Posta, which recently added a larger bar at the front of the house (although some regulars mourn the loss of the smaller, intimate downstairs lounge). It’s pleasant enough to enjoy a glass of prosecco here, but the real action is in the dining room, where you’re elbow-to-elbow with a group of happy-to-be-here folks, and the wait staff navigates the narrow aisles with a kind of cheerful intuition.
The menu is Tuscan, which means rich, sunny olive oil and crusty bread, as well as little pillows of house-made gnocchi, on my visit made with a near-exact duplicate of the bright green asparagus sauce I found at my favorite restaurant in Florence, Italy – a working-class, family-run operation with a similar dedication to the integrity of the ingredients and the food’s excellence. (Antica Posta’s salami is proudly described as “Betti family,” and another brother runs a restaurant in the family home near Florence.)
For another appetizer special, fried squash blossoms are delicately crumbed and herbed, but without the cheese stuffing that so often overwhelms this exquisite seasonal favorite in other, less confident hands. Instead, there was a creamy, restrained caper sauce.
The entrées are similarly respectful of tradition: Veal piccata is a balancing act of subtle, tender slices with lemon-scented sauce, and more of those specially sourced and flavorful capers; the branzino (sea bass) is a perfectly seared square over sautéed Swiss chard.
The vast wine list, as well as expert advice, is there if you need it, but even the by-the-glass standards (like a lightly fruity Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Grigio) are above the norm. Desserts – like a good, but plain panna cotta – feel like an afterthought, but this restaurant is all about the main event. Prices reflect the real estate – around $30 for entrees, and you get the feeling this flush-with-success crowd wouldn’t have it any other way.
Antica Posta attracts a surprising amount of antipathy among diners who post to message boards. Many protest the high prices and decry poor service – but our wait people were observant, timely, good-humored and ready to share opinions about the night’s specials. What’s more difficult to capture in a single visit is that indescribable atmosphere that captures an entire community.
519 East Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta
Hours: Lunch, Saturday only; dinner nightly.
Credit cards: All major.
Parking: Complimentary valet.
Dress code: Understated show-off, like Armani jeans and pearls or a sharp suit and no tie.