I was excited to try Double Zero. I am such a fan of Iberian Pig in Decatur and was excited to see the Castellucci groups’ newest venture. This is an Italian concept and I should preface this review with the fact that I have very little interest in Italian food but had confidence there would be dishes there for even an Italian cynic like myself to enjoy.
The space is quite large as is the potential for noise. You can see the big open ovens in the main dining area as you enter the restaurant. Also in view is a beautiful display of house made pastries. House made by an executive pastry chef, Emilee Greer, who happened to graduate valedictorian in her class at the CIA. I made a note to myself to save room for dessert.
At the bar I see a large block of ice being chipped away at to create single large cubes to put in cocktails. I do this at home for iced tea. Less dilution of your drink. Impressive touch. I suspect a bourbon lover came up with this but I have no confirmation.
I find the seating in there rather eclectic. Purposeful mismatched chairs of both wood and metal. Bar seating, café seating, tall communal table seating and 2-10 person group seating. The tables aren’t crowded close together thanks to the spaciousness of the location.
Castellucci himself is there this night. I met him nearly 2 years ago at Iberian Pig. Still charming and gracious a host. His sister in fact manages Zero but he tells me she is traveling at the moment. He informs me of some of the special touches. Including wild yeast starter brought over from Italy for the pizza dough.
The menu layout is borderline overwhelming even for a seasoned eater and chef such as me. Iberian Pig has a similar layout but hey why not go for it and just pack a menu full of lots of tastes and items that inspire interest but not indecision. I am happy to see an equal amount of porky appearances on Zero as the Pig has.
First up, Pork belly over polenta. Without question the flavor is excellent. It is the first time in the last handful of times I have had pork belly that it is actually the correct thickness and prepared so flawlessly to showcase how delicious it can be when it’s not made into bacon. The polenta is as good as polenta gets. The creaminess is unsurpassed and it doesn’t tighten up as it sits. My significant gripe is that the dish is over accessorized. Over the pieces of pork belly is an egg. Mixed into the polenta is unnecessary bits of red and yellow pepper and chickpeas (yes chickpeas). All of that can be removed. The bits of ricotta salata can stay. Adds a nice tangy depth of flavor. I’d still order it again and ask the egg be left off and pull out the superfluous pepper strips.
About this time the meat and cheese course came out. Big square white plates each with one meat and two cheeses we carefully chose. Wooly pig Mangalista Proscuitto and Proscuitto de Parma. The first gamier than the second but both equally delicious. Paper thinly sliced and mounded on to the plate. Cheeses each paired with a complimenting nut or fruit to enhance its already unique flavor. Two thick slices of house made bread accompanied it. I inquired to my server if the wild yeast starter is used in the bread too. Pastry chef Greer was kind enough to come out and speak to me about that. The starter is in fact used in the bread. It’s mostly white bread flour with a bit of whole wheat to have an artisanal feel. It’s light and has a subtle tang but nothing like a sourdough. It’s lovely.
It was time for me to order some wine before the entrees came out. I do do wine education but none of it is of the Italy region. I have not had any Italian wines I’ve enjoyed so never pursued learning the region. As luck would have it the only wine served at Zero is Italian. I was at a loss. After the server inquired what kind of wine I was wanting he said there was something not on the menu that fits the bill and had it sent over for my approval. A lovely falaghina. I appreciated having such an attentive and knowledgeable server.
Entrees: A pizza margherita and Short Rib Crespelle which is a ricotta-mascarpone Crespelle (a crepe), Blu di Bufala cheese, braised short rib ragu, walnut gremolata. Again being that I don’t favor Italian food I don’t eat pizza but had to try this magical dough for which the restaurant is essentially named (the double zero flour). Hand tossed thin crust and fired in those brick stone ovens . what I liked about it was that none of the dough was burnt in any spots from the oven like you get in wood fired applications. It had such a delicate taste and tenderness. I realize pizza is very personal so if this is your style of pizza you will enjoy it immensely. I am curious to try other variations of it at a later date.
The pasta entrée arrived in a cast iron crock. Two filled crepes topped with an appropriate amount of beef rib ragu. The gremolata was too spare. I think 3x the amount really would have brightened the taste but overall a solid dish. The filling was dry and not runny, crepes tender and sauce very well flavored and not too heavy a hand. I had only 3 bites as I needed to try some of Chef Emilee’s desserts. The leftovers were even better next day.
For dessert we decided on Italian Crème cake and Nutella terrine. I am sad to say they were both a bit disappointing but I do want to try some others. The crème cake, all components were fine but just didn’t have a wow factor in flavor. It was bland. I can’t even say subtly flavored. Texture is very good and moist though. That is an easy sponge to botch. The terrine had good flavor but rather than a smooth mouthfeel it almost felt mealy. The accompanying cookies were delicious buttery crispy goodness and the roasted banana gelato is really excellent. Chef Greer told me they get their gelatos from High Road and in fact a few flavors are made exclusively for Zero. I don’t know that the roasted banana is one of those exclusive variants but if so it’s worth going to the café side to get a scoop next time you’re in the vicinity.
A kosher friend of mine commented that if you don't eat pork you're quite out of luck at Double Zero. Just sayin.
Verdict? 9 out of 10. Even for a non Italian lover like me.