THE INTERSECTION OF the South, Japan and Italy seem about as unlikely as a bull charging through Brady Avenue, but it works at Donetto. It’s the newest offering from The Indigo Road Hospitality group, the team out of Charleston, S.C., responsible for Atlanta staples such as O-Ku, Colletta and Oak Steakhouse. Helmed by The Indigo Road veteran (and executive chef and partner) Michael Perez, Donetto represents the direction in which Atlanta’s dining scene is moving—a trifecta of beautiful interiors, sexy drinks and dang good food.
Named for the largest Chianina bull ever on record, this culinary behemoth first welcomes you with its beautifully turned out bar. Choices abound from Negroni on tap to amaro, and from pun-heavy cocktails—a standout is Orange Is the New Crack, made with vodka, Galliano, ginger, Bittermens orange cream and a peppy dose of black pepper—to housemade Italian sodas. There’s an extensive wine program curated by The Indigo Road’s wine director, Vonda Freeman, and a healthy assortment of mostly Italian wines available by the glass and bottle.
The oversize menu is divided up into easily recognizable Italian categories such as Antipasti, Piati and Alla Carta, but bread is where to begin. It’s hard to recall another bread service—perhaps only Brian So’s at Spring—that will leave diners waxing poetic about the merits of churned fat. Spurned from an idea Perez got from friend Graham House of Sovereign Remedies in Asheville, N.C., the sourdough butter is tangy, soft, mellow and sweet all in one. Slather it on the housemade focaccia (ask for more; they’re happy to accommodate) and sink into the goodness.
Standouts from the Antipasti lineup are abundant, from creamy and light burrata with smoked trout caviar, zucchini ribbons, radish and grilled focaccia to grilled romaine, the latter of which is expertly charred on the grill and finished with dollops of bufala mozzarella. But the absolute reason for ordering this dish is the balance the basil-stem vinaigrette brings. Inspired by catty-cornered neighbor Miller Union and Steven Satterfield’s commitment to zero food waste, the dressing is bright and herbaceous without being overpowering. Your server might push the frittelle—oblige. Modeled after the Italian carnival snack, Perez’s light and airy version comes wrapped with 18-month-cured prosciutto and a healthy helping of pecorino Romano.
Pastas come either as classico or moderno, with easy picky-eater pleasers like spaghetti all carbonara and lumache (that’s a tomato, basil, Parmesan dish) sprinkled throughout. Try the tortelli, a traditional peasant pasta with potato, provolone, ricotta, brown butter and pine nuts, or go for the acidic and hearty smoked beef mezzaluna, the fusilli (with duck sausage and bathed in a broccoli essence that’s a play on traditional orecchiette flavors) or ripiena, Perez’s own creative shape stuffed with quail, smoked mushrooms and garlic. Catch the pasta-makers in meditative action through the large picture window in the private dining room.
Incredibly, there is more to this menu. Composed dishes exist, such as the smoked half chicken, but skipping ahead (there might not be room) to the Alla Carta is where you’ll really reap the rewards of having paced yourself prior—a steak Florentine for two or three comes at market price and served with salsa verde, and the fatty, heavenly porchetta is a must-order for a group. Crispy fried rabbit nods to The Indigo Road’s Southern roots, while the smoked cherry tomatoes are light, beautifully smoked and mellow, acting as a perfect accoutrement to any meat.
It’s interesting that Perez, who has a diverse background—having been reared in Portland, Ore., and having worked everywhere from Hawaii to Charleston—would stick fairly rigidly to a Tuscan Italian menu, but it more than works. Even more curiously, the design of the space—done by longtime collaborator, Charleston-based architect David Thompson, evokes a restraint that’s almost Japanese. (It is, in fact, partly inspired by a trip to Japan by managing partner and design collaborator Steve Palmer.) The entire restaurant is an odd confluence that shouldn’t work—a Mexican-American chef, an Italian menu, hints of Japanese culture in its interior—but the truth is, it works in every possible scenario Atlanta diners could want. Donetto transports you to another world, one where casual elegance pairs well with off-the-chart eats. It comes at a time when Atlanta is being watched not only regionally, but nationally and internationally as a major metropolitan area, with all the sophistication and finesse of New York or Los Angeles. What culinary destination could be more fitting to usher Atlanta into its newest incarnation?
976 Brady Ave. NW, 404.445.6867
Appetizers, $4-$18; pasta, $14-$26; entrees, $18-$65; sides, $8-$12; desserts, $6-$8
Mon.-Thu., 5-10:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm; Sun., noon-5pm
PARKING PRO TIP
There’s street parking, but best to ride-share or valet.
It’s a hit with the bartenders (ask for Bar Manager Todd Cavato) and patrons alike—try The Darsi: all’ippica with Four Roses Bourbon, lime, ginger beer, orinoco bitters and a rum float.
Dessert! The Indigo Road pastry chef Lindsey Branham keeps it classically Italian. Our picks are the tiramisu cheesecake and local apple crostata with salted caramel gelato.
WHERE TO SIT
One of the big half-moon leather banquettes—ask for the one under Donetto himself, painted by Becca Barnet—are great for intimate parties of four, while the four-tops closest to the large iron windows are great for people-watching.