Friday, October 12, 2007

'Calavino's Return!' review by Cliff Bostock

The Roman Lily Cafe, which closed a year or so ago, was a landmark Atlanta restaurant with a fibrillating heart. Opened by Calavino Donati on a lonely strip of Highland Avenue that has since been thoroughly developed, the restaurant waxed and waned in quality depending on ... well, it was hard to tell.As with most passionate people, Donati could be counted on for a taste of drama. One of my favorite memories is when she turned the kitchen over for a night to Geneva Francais, a talented chef who had operated a compellingly unique restaurant called the African Brown Bag for a few years. People happily paid a fairly hefty price to eat Geneva's fascinating fusion cooking again, but who knew there wouldn't be enough food, served from common serving platters, to go around? Donati stood by, chewing her fingernails off while she forced a huge smile and muttered, "Oh no ... oh no ... oh no ..."Now, after a hiatus, she has returned to the business and opened Calavino's (350 Mead Road, 404-373-5220) in Oakhurst, in the spot formerly occupied by Oakhurst Grill. The drama has already begun. As evidence of Donati's passionate nature, check out my Oct. 2 post on our food blog, A reader complains that Donati seemed "stoned" and was too touchy-feely when he visited the restaurant. Donati makes a lengthy explanation – she wasn't "stoned" but exhausted from working for the restaurant's opening. In actuality, it's her naturally "altered" personality and affectionate style that make her such an attractive character.Her redo of the garish interior of the former occupant is welcome. Like the Roman Lily, it's simple and stresses the architecture, rather than decoration. A takeout shop, featuring prepared dishes, will open soon in an adjoining space.The chef is Michael Connelly, himself a character of no small repute. (I laugh thinking of the two of them working together.) The menu greatly reprises the mainly Italian cuisine at Roman Lily. The evening of my visit, however, Connelly offered six specials, along with a five-course tasting menu. I was curious to see how he might influence the menu, so I paid my $45 for an adventure.I was mainly very pleased. My first course featured thick slices of red and gold beets layered with Gorgonzola mousse, topped with curly frisse, on a plate with balsamic squiggles. That was followed by two oversized, seared scallops in a bowl with Romano gratin – a delicious study in creamy textures. Next was a petite rack of New Zealand lamb over a succotash of peas, fava beans, corn and diced red peppers. This was the only dish that seriously faltered, first because the lamb needed better seasoning, second because the succotash was overcooked.By the fourth course, I was already stuffed. It included a hefty chunk of pan-seared halibut over a squash ratatouille and (mushy) baby red carrots crisscrossed like swords atop the browned fish. The final course was a sampler of available desserts – tiramisu, roasted banana cheesecake and chocolate-raspberry mousse cake. I disliked the mousse cake. Chocolate and raspberry is a flavor combination I wish would be suspended until my death, but I know I'm a minority in that opinion.Wayne ordered from the regular menu – a competent Caesar salad and a bowl of fettuccine with a white-wine-caper sauce. The pasta was a bargain at $8. It bears mention, considering the fairly substantial cost of the tasting menu, that dining here is otherwise inexpensive. Most entrees are less than $15. Appetizers hover around $8 and most serve two.

Calavino's Virb!

Calavino's website!

(still under construction but it can be viewed!!)

Calavino's Myspace!

' Diners Nation'

click on the link below!

'Urban Spoon' comments

"Love it!" by glamgirl (1 comment posted)October 04, 2007 - We are so happy they are here in the neighborhood! My waist line isn't going to be happy but my palette is! Excellent food, great staff, and wonderful ambience.
Excellent wine selection also. It's nice to have a resturant that raises the bar a bit in Oakhurst. We are very happy they are here and eat there often!
"Fantastic Food and Atmosphere" by Food Black Belt (1 comment posted)October 04, 2007 - What a great addition to Oakhurst. Both the food and atmosphere was wonderful.
"Great service" by Gustavo and Joslin (1 comment posted)October 03, 2007 - and great wine! Had a chance to visit Calavino's last week and we were blown away by exceptional service and friendly atmosphere. Also had to partake in the fine beer and wine. We definitely suggest visiting this restaurant!
"Calavino's Oakhurst" by gideon (1 comment posted)September 22, 2007 - Wow. Delicious! From the salad to the vino the entree and dessert- Excellent! The waitstaff was wonderful too, to top it off... great place !
i'd advise anyone interested in anItalian meal in a cozy neighborhood to check it out !
"Great Italian Food" by tina (1 comment posted)September 21, 2007 - Great food, Nice atmosphere, Extensive wine list, Beautiful and cozy interior.
Staff is attentive and friendly. Owner is one of a kind.
"Congrats to Calavino" by Cathy (1 comment posted)September 21, 2007 - Thrilled to see Calavino back in business. Devotees of The Roman Lily Cafe will surely agree - she's outdone herself ! The Oakhurst location is perfect for the new restaurant's warm, friendly atmosphere with it's delicious food.