Monday, February 3, 2014

Veni Vidi Vici: New Direction, New Friends

We descended upon the midtown restaurant with enthusiasm and anticipation. Fifteen members of the Atlanta Food Bloggers Alliance were invited to downtown Atlanta’s venerable Veni Vidi Vici to explore a sampling of dishes from their new menu. Many of the bloggers in attendance had never met in person, making it an evening of new friends as well as a new focus for the restaurant.

After a fire destroyed the restaurant’s rotisserie station, executive chef Jamie Adams revamped the menu to focus more on regional Italian dishes with an emphasis on seafood. The former rotisserie area will become a charcuterie station featuring artisanal Italian cheeses and hand crafted meats such as prosciutto, soppressata and cacciatorini. Executive Manager, Leonardo Moura, is excited about the change in direction. “Chef Jamie is very earthy and unassuming. His focus is on ingredients and preparation. Just when we think that he has perfected the menu, he kicks it up a notch.”

Moura’s enthusiasm was evident. He chatted with bloggers as plate after plate of antipasti rolled out of the kitchen: crisp calamari and clam strips with sun-dried tomato aioli, plump steamed mussels and clams in a cherry tomato broth infused with saffron, and perfectly prepared grilled octopus cut into tiny medallions with pickled onions served atop baby arugula. Long serving boards of salami, prosciutto, robiola, asiago and dried fig paste were passed around the table and disappeared almost as quickly as they arrived.

With each new service came an accompanying wine selection. Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco with the antipasti and biodynamic Chianti with the pasta, pesci and carni. Then came the pasta course with spaghetti carbonara, orecchiette with a spicy fennel sausage and roasted broccoli, agnolotti filled with roasted chicken, duck and fontina tossed with brown butter, sage and pecans, and a robust saffron risotto with seafood and fennel. The restaurant is serving their pasta in smaller portions and are encouraging sharing. “In Italy, people eat smaller portions of several different dishes, not just one massive bowl of pasta or large piece of braised meat,” Chef Adams says. “It’s more a little bit of this and a little bit of that—a very balanced, healthy way of eating.”

Following the pasta course, we were treated to “Pesci Regionali;” four fish dishes that highlight Chef Adams’ expertise in classic Italian cooking. Each fish dish was prepared simply and garnished modestly as they would be in the varying regions of Italy. Grilled Idaho rainbow trout typifies the Piedmontese served with cipolline, sage, and balsamic vinegar, while the Atlantic flounder prepared with saffron, sweet onions, golden raisins, and Prosecco vinegar was representative of Venetian cuisine. The Ligurian pan-roasted branzino with fresh tomatoes and mixed mushrooms, and the Tuscan baccalá with oven roasted tomatoes, olives, and capers were standout regional representations as well.

As the emptied seafood platters were removed from the table, they were replaced by plates of glistening “carni.” Roman-style chicken breasts with roasted peppers and tomatoes, succulent garlic-rosemary glazed pork ribs, and delicate braised rabbit with fennel and polenta were accompanied by VVV “contori” of roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, and a ratatouille-style eggplant Parmigiana. While the rabbit was a clear favorite among the bloggers, each meat dish was outstanding.

As the sommelier poured Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti, our servers brought out plates of dessert. Although we were all stuffed, we could not resist the temptation of fluffy chocolate tartufo, crusty bomboloni, decadent crème brulee and VVV’s signature “Pizza di Fragole,” a crispy tart with a light coating of strawberry sauce, dollops of mascarpone and fresh strawberries laced with balsamic syrup. We said our farewells over cups of warm cappuccino and waddled out to our cars satiated and content.

Veni Vidi Vici is a delightful blend of casual elegance and intown sophistication. The updated menu features dishes that are less complex and lighter allowing the quality of the ingredients and preparation to shine. Whether it is a special occasion or a meal before the theater, the Buckhead Life Group’s chic Italian trattoria is a perfect place to unwind and enjoy a relaxing meal. Veni Vidi Vici, located on 14th Street at I-75 in the heart of midtown, is classic Italian dining at its best.

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