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La Tagliatella has a decidely un-Italian feel

By Jon Watson - For the AJC

When I was 10 years old and on my first trip to Europe, it was the bits of America that I found across the pond that I remembered most.

Though I loved taking in the local flavors, I was fascinated to see how brands like McDonald’s adapted to the new market. The familiarity drew me in, but everything was a slightly re-worked version of what I knew. Milky Way bars are missing the caramel, and the Coca-Cola is just a little bit sweeter. I had my first Royale with cheese long before hearing about it from the “Pulp Fiction” character Vincent Vega.

Well, globalization is a two-way street. La Tagliatella, a successful chain of Northern Italian restaurants and the newest European export, chose Atlanta as its entry point into the U.S. market. Since being acquired by Polish company AmRest Holdings in 2011, this restaurant chain has been expanding globally quickly. With more than 130 locations in Spain, the chain has added in the past two years locations in France, India, China, Germany and here in the U.S., with two locations opened in Atlanta this winter, the first in Midtown and the second at Emory Point near the CDC.

Walking into the newer location at Emory Point, it is impossible not to immediately notice the décor. The combined efforts of Atlanta design firm ai3 and Spanish firm DecoRetro, the dramatic and grandiose interior design isn’t exactly an exercise in subtlety. It is a little more like getting hit upside the head by Liberace’s candelabra.

Heavy on baroque styling, La Tagliatella’s design is like Vegas’ interpretation of what of grand Italian eatery should be. High, lavishly detailed wood-carved trap ceilings, countless gold chandeliers and the giant wall of ornate clocks set to varying time zones combine to form this caricature of a palatial Italian estate. It is all vaguely European, but every one of my dining companions who had spent any modicum of time in Italy immediately pointed out how decidedly un-Italian the restaurant feels.

Like the décor, the menu at La Tagliatella is big in just about every sense of the word. First, know that if you don’t arrive with a group or an inhuman appetite, you’ll be hard pressed to finish an entrée yourself. Most of the menu, particularly the salads, risotto and pastas, is served family style and designed for sharing, so keep that in mind before everyone at a table of six gets his or her own serving of pasta.

I find that the pizzas make for my favorite appetizer on the menu. As an entrée, two people could comfortably split these thin-crust pies, which arrived uncut but with a pizza cutter so that the table may decide how to best divvy up the slices. The mix of toppings made for some interesting bites, like the goat cheese, caramelized tomatoes and duck ham atop the Caprina ($15), which we happily devoured. And I had high hopes for the honey and balsamic drizzled Tagliatella ($15), topped with mozzarella, fried eggplant and Parmigiano-Reggiano. But, after a few slices, I noticed that the balsamic reduction totally dominated what is an otherwise pleasant combination of sweet and savory.

Pastas are divided between filled and fresh or dry. First, select your base pasta, then choose one of the 19 different sauces. All in, there are more than 400 combinations, and some are ill-advised. How easily you navigate the dizzying selection of pasta on your first visit will likely depend on the server you draw that day.

The server on our second visit left us to our own devices, despite over half the group being first time diners. But our first server seemed genuinely excited about the menu, offering candid opinions and steering us away from making bad choices, such as the too-heavy combination of the mushroom and truffle filled Rotondo pasta topped with Tartufo al Parmigiano ($19.50). Instead, he suggested pairing the heavy sauce with one of the fresh pastas, like the pappardelle ($19). And it is a good thing that he did, because the deliciously rich cream sauce with black truffles topped with a runny fried egg proved nearly too heavy even without a rich, stuffed pasta beneath it.

Another of his suggestions, the Triangoli di Gorgonzola e Pera pasta with Noci e Gorgonzola sauce ($16.5), surprised us, as the combination of the stuffed pear and gorgonzola pasta with the walnut and gorgonzola cream sauce seemed like it would be an overload of the Italian blue cheese. Instead, the sweetness of the pears cuts the sharp soft cheese. It was one of the few bowls of pasta with no leftovers to speak of.

Unfortunately, even when the dishes at La Tagliatella are at their best, they still barely surpass the point of mediocrity and prove beyond frustrating when at their worst. The thin veal slices in my too-dry Albese ($19) arrived tough and grey, save for the overly-browned and crisped, curled edges. I was too busy chewing through the old-bubblegum consistency of gnocchi with Tartufo e Funghi sauce ($17.50) to give the creamy mushroom and truffle sauce the attention it deserved. And it seemed the kitchen used up all of the salt making the throat-parching Al Salame risotto ($16) before stacking up the bland tomato, mozzarella and under-cooked sautéed eggplant in the Insalata Torre Di Pisa salad ($11.50).

In AmRest’s quest to bring La Tagliatella to the world, I believe they will prove most successful in the under-served international markets. I have to imagine their new location in Bangalore competes with far fewer generic Italian family-style restaurants than here in the states.

But, if for nothing else, my experiences at La Tagliatella taught me another valuable lesson about globalization: America does not have a monopoly on exporting mass-marketed mediocrity.

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