There’s a very good restaurant right here in Auburn-Opelika that we often forget. It’s Ariccia (AT) at the Auburn University Hotel.
Mostly we think of hotel restaurants as simply turning out average fare for captive guests. Usually that restaurant is responsible for providing food for groups and meetings throughout the day. Plus, there’s room service and special amenities.
Thankfully the hotel has a banquet kitchen that handles some of the responsibility. That allows Ariccia to focus on its guests. Just like most hotel restaurants, they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the year.
These days some hotel restaurants have stepped up their offerings. They offer upscale dining and a focused menu. They have a wide appeal and attract both visitors and local patrons.
That’s Ariccia. Recent renovations and decorating changes have resulted in a modern, urban feel in a very comfortable space. There’s an open kitchen and a dedicated space for making pasta.
The nice wine list makes an important statement: “Back to our roots.” That’s true for Ariccia as a whole. For a few years, the menu took another turn. It lost its identity as an Italian restaurant. Well that's all changed.
Recent visits to Ariccia have proved to be quite refreshing. The dishes are varied and hit the Italian mark.
Dining out for me is mostly a lunchtime experience. If I want to try a dinner dish, I simply ask ahead, and the restaurant will usually accommodate my request. Ariccia sure did and without a hitch.
The lunchtime menu offers appetizers, a soup and salads. There are several sandwiches plus pizzas. Ariccia’s wood-fired oven does a fine job.
The carpaccio we had was excellent. Meltingly tender beef and tasty bread. Of the several salads, we tried Chef Miguel’s suggestion - one billed as spinach and Brussels. The thinly shaved Brussel sprouts were delicately sweet. Little treasures of ripe strawberries and mandarins were found along with grated ricotta salta. On top was a caramel brittle instead of croutons. Killer good touch. Both of these dishes were served appropriately ice cold.
Of the various paninis, a guest chose the Italiano. It was packed with meats, cheese and roasted peppers. The focaccia was really good. The fries ordered as a side could not have been better.
I couldn’t resist ordering the pizza Margherita. That’s my benchmark evaluation. Ariccia does an outstanding job. Rich tomato and fresh Mozzarella rode on yeasty crust. The scent of fresh basil wafted about as the pizza was served. It was a beautiful presentation.
At dinner, you can design your own butcher board from a selection of meats and cheeses. Don’t miss the Taleggio – or the fried artichokes.
Ariccia uses fresh pasta made right there. It’s cooked to order. We tried the rigatoni carbonara. Crisp pancetta and guanciale bits were strewn amid the pasta. There version uses heavy cream and cheese. The result is a rich, satisfying dish.
Another pasta we have ordered was shrimp capellini. Wow was this a good one. The pasta was not too thin and was sauced perfectly. The combination of a touch of tomato with capers and fennel was so good. The shrimp were spot on. The dish was a feast for the eyes too.
Dinner main courses include chicken, fish, pork and beef selections.
For dessert one time we chose tiramisu. It was light yet filling. Served in a generous double old fashion glass, it makes for an attractive end to a meal. There’s also the popular espresso and ice cream affogato on the menu. Speaking of espresso, there’s a fine full coffee service.
Ariccia offers complimentary valet parking for restaurant guests. Go inside the main doors and the restaurant is to your left. If you have limited time, tell the hostess and your server. Or order ahead and your lunch will be ready when you arrive. Plan a visit there soon. Chances are you will be very pleased.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident, a food, wine and restaurant consultant, and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.