If $35 is too much, $12 will get you an order of the house masterpiece, big a mano. And, the show is free when you sit down at the bar, to watch the staff squeeze, stretch, bend and shape the mozzarella into a firm (compared to others on the menu), round and flat that hits the mark for saltiness. It is finished with olive oil, salt and a few black peppercorns.
There is also a salumi bar. Like cheeses, they are sold individually (finely grated prosciutto di Parma, matured for 32 months which will melt in your mouth), or in flight. None are currently prepared on site, but cooked products are arriving.
The team of pastry chefs and bakers are also scrambling to keep up with the frenzy of orders for focaccia, an essential cheese pairing. Two types of this Italian bread – liguria and barese – are available. The first, my recommendation, brings a thick square with subtle earthy notes of rye flour. The latter, a fried round, was oily and heavy.
Bastone is touted as having been designed to feel like an all-day happy hour, and, indeed, I’d settle for snacking on cheese, charcuterie, and a glass of almost anything on the drink menu.
An Italy-focused wine list from beverage director Anthony Panzica is approachable, yet explorable. A tight beer list might bring a new Italian beer to you. Additionally, the cocktails crafted by Leo Briggs are superbly aligned with the restaurant menu and are well executed. A prime example is the Ace of Clubs, a spin on a dirty martini that brilliantly accentuates the juniper and tomato botanicals of the gin through the pasta water and caper brine.
Round two is expected to include arancini, which showcases what Bolduc has learned from more than two decades of fine dining. It combines two traditional toppings for these Italian rice balls — cheese and ciccioli (crispy leftover pork) — with mint and spring peas, making for a spicy, meaty, cheesy bite.
Other hot and cold small plates were not as sensational. The amberjack crudo brought overly thick cuts of fish and a drowning at the table of a buttermilk and basil oil vinaigrette that baffled my taste buds. The roasted broccoli, classed as a Caesar salad, looked like cold leftover broccoli. And, a sunchoke appetizer was basically a hash that might best be served as bruschetta.
Pasta is Pascarella’s wheelhouse, and at Bastone he lets Bolduc, head chef Cory Brown and sous chef Blake Jones have some fun.
A rotating menu of eight pastas, all homemade, showcases a range of flours, textures, shapes and flavors from across Italy: casoncelli stuffed with prawns and a divine savory and silky ‘nduja’ sauce; the cresc tajat, a polenta-based pasta, whose sausage sugo and ricotta hit the mark like biscuits and gravy; and orecchiette accompanied by roasted bone marrow – the bone standing upright with a spoon to scoop up the creamy, melty gelatin.
On the dessert side, pass a dry cake with olive oil and point instead to a buttermilk donut with a scoop of tarragon ice cream.
Although Bastone’s first few weeks saw a few hiccups, each dish promises fresh, reinvented flavors. And, with a staff as energetic and creative as this, there’s reason to return again and again, just like you did when piles of burgers were built into those tiered walls.
Food: mozzarella bar, Italian small plates and pasta
A service: friendly, attentive
Best Dishes: fatt’ a mano mozzarella, arancini, charred polpo, pasta (casconelli, cresc tajat, orecchiette), buttermilk donut
Vegetarian Selections: many options of mozzarella, Jerusalem artichoke caponata, various salads, always at least one pasta dish; diets and allergies are noted at reception
Alcohol: yes (Italian-focused drink program)
Price scale: $$$-$$$$
Credit card: all major cards accepted
Hours: 4pm-10pm Sunday to Thursday, 4pm-11pm Friday to Saturday
Children: sure, but it’s mostly an adult destination
Car park: valet or paid street parking
MARTA Station: Downtown
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: medium
To go out: order by phone (no delivery)
Address, phone: 887 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-252-6699