Art Of The Meal: The Buco Stops Here
3324 Cobb Parkway SE, Atlanta, 770.272.9825
Reservations: Accepted; encouraged on
Cobb Energy Center performance nights.
Parking: In attached lot.
Dress code: Anything goes, from tuxedos to blue jeans.
We were on a tour of Italy, with five days each in Rome, Florence and Venice. It was an incredible splurge, an eye-opening adventure, a thrilling and occasionally exhausting romp through historic churches and museums and some incredible restaurants. Perhaps our favorite meal wasn’t the elegant late-night rooftop dinner, overlooking Rome’s glittering hills, or Venice’s purple baby artichokes and salt-baked branzini from the lagoon. It was, instead, a Florence hole-in-the-wall – quite literally, because its name (Buca Mario) means “Mario’s hole.”
This humble downstairs family restaurant, in operation since the late 1800s and on a winding path not far from the Duomo, was where we learned how Florentine people really eat. We watched them all around us – ravenous, skinny workmen downing gigantic, throbbingly rare grilled T-bones; families digging into ravioli with brilliant green asparagus sauce; couples sharing toasted bread smeared with the local, liquidy version of pate; and of course Tuscan specialties like stewed boar and tripe.
The exotic specialties weren’t the eye-openers – the slow-cooked, accessible flavors and hearty, welcoming atmosphere were. It was less a way of eating than a way of life, as automatic and unconscious as using your hands to talk. That little lace-curtained, mom-and-pop shop with waiters who were as patient with tourists as they were with the well-behaved Italian children taught us as much about Italian culture as any museum. We gobbled it up.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that we entered Taverna Fiorentina – inside, you’ll see depictions of Florence’s landmark River Arno and Ponte Vecchio bridge, but the nearest approximations are the Chattahoochee and I-285/I-75 interchange. We also had a deadline – opera tickets in hand, we needed to make a curtain at the nearby Cobb Energy Centre and wanted to branch out from our usual pre-performance standbys – Tomo, C&S Oyster and Thai Diner.
Somehow, despite Cobb County’s affluent, sophisticated residents, the restaurant scene there seems an afterthought. Perhaps decades of driving into town for dinner and a show helped form that culture, but with the arrival of the Cobb Energy Centre – home to the Atlanta Opera, as well as other big-name touring performers – that seems to be slowly changing. Taverna Fiorentina is an encouraging development. Our table was ready on time, and we took our seats among a flock of tuxedoed and spangled diners, all set for opening night.
The owners (from Florence and Madrid, with Paolo Tondo serving as executive chef and Jasmin Reyes Scott as sommelier) have warmed this strip-mall setting with ochre walls, wrought-iron chandeliers and an open kitchen, occasionally lit by great flashes of flame. The menu includes signature Florentine dishes like boar, beef and grilled lamb chops, as well as slow-cooked specialties such as spaghetti Bolognese and our favorite of the night, the special veal osso buco. (Buco, usually meaning “mouth,” here refers to the hole in the veal’s bone, often filled with delicious marrow.)
From the starter special soup – tiny shrimp in clear broth with white beans and herbs – to the Italian bread pudding dessert, dotted with currants and orange zest, we tasted the homey, deeply developed flavors we first discovered at Buca Mario in every bite. The Caesar salad sported not only gutsily salty anchovies, but a perfectly poached egg, its center barely liquid. Warm ciabatta bread was crumbly and cake-like. Flounder with ricotta ravioli in lemon sauce was also satisfying, rich without drowning the delicate flavors.
The veal osso buco was by far the best, a braised mass of tender veal flecked with carrot and onion over saffron risotto. The wine list by the glass is short, but focused, and our server quite knowledgeable. We waited until the last moment to order that bread pudding, but still made it to the theater with time to spare, thanks to the attentive staff.
Taverna Fiorentina fills a hole – and a mouth – in the best possible ways.