Sunday, January 18, 2015

Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant - Alpharetta Georgia

Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant is located at 5670 Hwy 9 N, Alpharetta, GA 30004 at the left end of a shopping center at the Grassland Pkwy intersection. This is a very popular spot among locals with a quaint decor a limited seating, however some overflow is accommodated via an outdoor deck. There's very limited parking, however you can park in the Suntrust lot just South of the restaurant after-hours.

Those of you who frequent my blog may be wondering, WTF are you doing way up in Alpharetta? I was visiting some family who live in this far-North suburb of Atlanta (actually I started in Cumming) - Casa Nuova was suggested by a family member as "a real treat" and I'm glad to have found it, having had less-than-average experiences in other Alpharetta restaurants, it's nice to know there's something exceptional available. For my intown friends, Alpharetta (and now Forsyth County) is the "white flight" destination for those wanting to escape the poor school scores and initially, the over-crowding, high home prices and ridiculous traffic ITP. Of course by picking up stakes and moving this far North, those stalwart explorers just brought all the crap with them, abandoning all the great food choices and settling for mediocre chain restaurants. Casa Nuova is a rare exception.

There are a handful of what I think of as traditional family-run Italian restaurants in Atlanta - most are of the "old school" variety, featuring heavy, slightly sweet Sicilian-style dishes (with an occasional Northern style cream dish), but in general sticking with what I think of as the New York or Chicago formula. Those restaurants include some of my favorites like the local Ippolito's chain, Bambanelli's near Northlake and of course Alfredo's and Nino's on Cheshire Bridge where everyone who works or eats there is named Vinnie, for some reason (there are others and I'm not listing Maggiano's due to it's national footprint - it's a bit sub-par in my opinion anyway). These run the gambit of reasonably priced to expensive and really, the food quality is about on-par between them so you may as well hit one on the lower end. It's difficult to find Italian in Atlanta that is both unusual and exceptional, after all, a restaurant has to adapt to the regional tastes of the people visiting. What makes Casa Nuova special is that while the dishes are in align with those traditional flavors of Italy, there's a hint of something else there - a bit more Italian Oregano and a heavier hand in herbs. I believe this is due to the Cuban influence of the founders, and well worth experiencing.

I've read some of the reviews on Yelp and I found it interesting that we did not experience many of the complaints written most recently. We arrived on a weekend night and it was quite busy - this was in December so the restaurant was extravagantly decorated, festooned with garlands and wreathes with several trees - even so, with no reservation we only waited about 20 minutes before being seated. The restaurant was a bit cramped with several large parties - I think you should call ahead and book a reservation, especially on busy nights. Our server, while not the most knowledgeable regarding the new craft beers (seems they were recently added), did a good job describing each dish we were interested in and had the specials down pat.

One of the owner's sons came and spoke with me regarding the craft beer options - I settled on a New Holland Cabin Fever Brown Ale - quite good and new to me (New Holland makes one of my favorite stouts, Dragon's Milk, so I don't think I could go wrong with that brand). Most brown ales tend to be too sweet to me, but this one was rather crisp and a great started. I switched to Moretti La Rosa for the rest of the meal - this is the Italian version of dark beer and has a distinct reddish color - it's also my go-to beer when eating Italian if available (I'll default to Peroni if that's all there is).

The menu had many items that you would typically find in other Italian restaurants - we decided to start with a couple of salads, Caesar and the spinach salad from the evening's specials.

The Caesar salad was quite tasty with a good hint of garlic and lemon - the only negative was that it was very heavily dressed (this may be more to local tastes). Next time I'll ask it be lightly dressed.

The spinach salad featured a balsamic dressing with walnuts and was quite tasty - I think this was the better of the two.

The dinner bread was something exceptional - toasted Italian baguettes drenched in butter and fresh garlic - we had several baskets as is appropriate with this type of fair.

For entrees we ordered the following, all from that evening's specials menu:

I had the Grouper Diavolo which was one of the specials and what can I say? This dish was fantastic, with flaky grouper cooked to perfection in a spicy marinara and fresh button mushrooms. Even the side of pasta was surprisingly good - something I usually pass on but ate this evening.

The second Grouper special was much like the Diavolo only in lemon sauce and fresh spinach. I tasted this and it was quite good - the sauce was a bit like a piccata with lemon and a bit of white wine.

The chicken Florentine was much like the grouper special only made with chicken, pounded, lightly breaded and sauted with the same piccata sauce. Some how we ended up ordering very similar items but that's just the way it goes sometimes, I guess.

We finished the meal with a shared tiramisu - this looked great on the plate but the lady fingers were a bit light of espresso for my tastes (you usually get a bit more bitter from the coffee - for this dish most of the bitter came from the powdered cocoa).

This evening we were handed a jar of home-made pickled peppers - it seems the owners have a large garden where many of the veggies are grown. I haven't opened them yet, waiting on a special occasion, but what a great gift!

In all, we had a great time, an exceptional meal and fantastic service. I'll definitely remember Casa Nuova and seek it the next time I'm stranded in Alpharetta.

 (A much-shorter review also posted to Yelp.)

-- John

Casa Nuova Italian on Urbanspoon