Review: Pop-up Gigi’s Italian Kitchen marries checkered tablecloth nostalgia with modern technique

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Gato’s dining room, transformed into a space where Stanley Tucci could call home.

Photograph by Martha Williams

Atlanta has Italian restaurants of all kinds, but what it’s been missing until now is a place that combines the cheesy romance of an old-school Italian-American red sauce joint with modern culinary techniques and presentations. refined. The idea for Gigi’s Italian Kitchen came to Eric Brooks in 2019 while visiting North Beach, San Francisco’s bustling Little Italy neighborhood where celebrity chefs like April Bloomfield had injected new energy into classic well-known places. loved like the Tosca Cafe. Why, he wondered, don’t we have something like that in Atlanta?

Brooks and his friend Jacob Armando had talked about launching a pop-up; in 2019, after San Francisco, they started defining the vision of what Gigi would be and started doing gigs all over the city. Their current situation is a three-night-a-week residency at Gato, Nicholas Stinson’s Candler Park restaurant which, over the years, has served as an incubator for a wide range of talented chefs and up-and-coming concepts. (See box at the end of this article.) Gigi’s menu changes considerably from week to week; the constant is the utterly impressive food.

THE TEAM

The two partners are young guys from the South with experience in gastronomy. They met in the kitchen of Bacchanalia, where Brooks was sous chef. Armando, who recently turned 28, grew up in Stone Mountain and Decatur, where his family ran a humble meat and three. Brooks, 30, was born in East Point. Her father owns a small organic farm in Fairburn and sold vegetables to places like Bacchanalia and Kimball House. Helping his father gave Brooks his entry into the restaurant world and gave him a nickname: “Green Guy”, shortened to “GG” and ultimately the inspiration behind “Gigi’s”.

Gigi's Italian cuisine
Gigi’s Grilled Brassicas

Photograph by Martha Williams

THE FOOD

“Don’t give people too many choices,” Armando told me. “They’re going to do the wrong thing.” I really appreciate the well-organized partner menu. The wafer-thin round-eyed carpaccio – painted with a layer of arugula salsa verde and topped with baby arugula leaves, torn rice crackers and chunky Manchego flakes – is magical in its tender intensity. The exquisite fried polenta cake with creme fraiche and caviars (trout roe and sturgeon roe) blew me away the first time I stopped by. Chefs know a thing or two about crucifers, too, as evidenced by a mix of cauliflower, broccolini, cabbage and broccolo fiolaro (from Bartram Trail, a Winterville farm specializing in seasonal organic vegetables for chefs) which they cook over hot coals on a yakitori grill. , season with Calabrian peppers and serve with a briny white anchovy condiment.

Brooks and Armando use the same yakitori contraption – which has been used in Gato for years – for a six-ounce New York prime strip, which they accompany with bordelaise and collard greens (from Brooks’ dad’s farm) glazed with cacio e pepe sauce. There’s usually just one pasta, homemade: spaghetti alla chitarra with tomato sauce, or cavatelli with paper-thin hakurei turnips, meaty maitake mushrooms, and a sauce of mashed turnips. Everything on the menu, from crab-stuffed arancini to chicken Milanese, is prepared with as much precision as anything you’ll find in a fine-dining establishment. For dessert, the partners got a classic build, cloud-shaped tiramisu recipe from Aaron Russell of Poor Hendrix, a friend, as well as one of the best pastry chefs in town.

THE DRINKS

The limited drink options, curated by Brooks, Armando and Stinson — a few cocktails, a short wine list — are smart and appropriate for such a small menu and such a small crew. I was quite a fan of the Godfather – a smooth two-ingredient cocktail of scotch and amaretto – but preferred, in general, to stick to wine, especially the white Monferrato from Piedmont.

THE ATMOSPHERE

Open Sunday through Tuesday, Gigi’s transforms Gato’s cramped, intimate dining room into a space Stanley Tucci would surely enjoy — checkered tablecloths, candelabra dripping with wax. These are family heirlooms purchased decades ago by Armando’s grandmother, an antique dealer and restorer. Gato’s restaurant-style counter serves as a meeting place for those who like to watch the cooking and, almost like in a sushi restaurant, receive their food directly from the hands of the chefs.

Gigi's Italian cuisine
Gigi’s beautifully concise menu includes a magical carpaccio with salsa verde and Manchego.

Photograph by Martha Williams

THE VERDICT

Gato continues to find the perfect roommates, and Gigi’s shares some of the love for fresh produce and fine details like the restaurant whose space he occupies part-time. Seasonal, spontaneous in the best possible way, the cuisine takes full advantage of the setting. The chiefs will undoubtedly change places. Catch these young talents early and support a promising career.

Rating
★ ★ ★
Excellent
1660 McLendon Ave, Candler Park
@gigisitaliankitchen

All the children of Gato

Since taking over it more than a decade ago, Nicholas Stinson has turned his Candler Park spot into a launching pad for ambitious food pop-ups, some of which have grown into full-fledged restaurants.

Little Bear
Before settling in his brick-and-mortar Summerhill, Jarrett Stieber made a name for himself with Eat Me Speak Me, a pop-up series that showcased his particular art: a high-concept kitchen that don’t take it too seriously.

Talat market
Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter’s endlessly interesting culinary project – Thai technique meets Georgian produce – rose to prominence through a residency launched here in 2017. Now they have their own digs in Summerhill; their many fans, meanwhile, enjoy more consistent access to Talat’s Crispy Rice Salad.

The Mighty Hans
No permanent space yet, but here’s the hope. Since last year, Fu-Mao Sun has been drawing crowds on Saturdays with fantastic Taiwanese breakfast dishes, including scallion pancakes with bacon, eggs and cheese, and fan tuan, a rice snack gooey wrapped around assorted savory fillings, including pork bristle. and pickled radishes.

This article originally appeared in our March 2022 issue.

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