After 16 years, Buckhead favorite, Aria, closed for a short time earlier this month for a makeover by Stacey Kirby and Atlanta’s Seiber Design.
The bar area was opened up, with a new marble bar top and walnut back bar, and more seating for casual dining and walk-in customers. And the dining rooms were updated to display a brighter, less formal look that includes new leather banquettes and white oak tabletops.
But at its core, Aria remains familiar, including the billowing glass chandelier designed by Atlanta artist Chris Moulder.
The iconic fine dining restaurant enjoys a loyal following of neighborhood regulars, while serving as one of Atlanta’s most beloved special occasion destinations, and a discreet go-to spot for visiting celebrities.
Naturally, chef/owner Gerry Klaskala won’t fool with the food those folks crave, from perfectly executed seasonal vegetable and seafood dishes to the signature short rib of beef that must never be removed from the menu.
Klaskala, who opened Canoe in the mid-‘90s, and was the consulting chef who opened Atlas in early 2015, calls the kitchen at Aria his home base, because it’s where he works, hands-on with his team most days.
In fact, when I phoned earlier this week to get his take on the Aria redesign, Klaskala said he needed to call back, because he was receiving a seafood order.
Here’s some of what we talked about.
Q. Why was it time for a makeover at Aria?
A. Sometimes in life, you need to tack into the wind to pull yourself forward. Everything just felt right for a change right now.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the redesign?
A. I love the way the bar feels. I think it’s just so much more welcoming. To me, it feels very hip and right and very comfortable. The trend toward dining in the bar area just keeps getting bigger.
Q. There are a couple of notable things that remained the same, though, right?
A. The two elements that we decided to keep were Chris Moulder’s chandelier, which in my mind is an art piece, and Mary Engel’s dog sculptures. Those are signature art pieces in the restaurant that are part of our history and our identity.
Q. You have an unusually loyal following at Aria. Do some people come in every week or even several times a week?
A. Absolutely. Because we are extremely discreet with celebrities and others, we are the kind of place where you can come and it’s like it’s your restaurant. Our regulars have a sense of ownership.
Q. Are they all OK with the changes?
A. We haven’t been back open that long, but they’ve all given us a big thumbs up.
Q. And you’ve remained a constant in the kitchen, right?
A. I’ve chosen to stay in my kitchen. That’s where my comfort and joy is. And it’s been a real privilege to be able to cook for all these people for all these years. We have a great team and we all enjoy coming to work every day. It’s no drama here. It’s the anti “Hell’s Kitchen.”
Q. But I imagine that many of the regulars would complain if you changed the menu too much.
A. Cooking and music are very similar to me. You have hits. And people want the hits. But then you’re always writing new music, too. It’s the same thing with a chef. You’re always creating new dishes. But you keep the favorites like the lobster.
Q. How do you sum up your approach?
A. I have a great respect for quality and consistency. When someone really craves something you’re doing, and you’re able to deliver that over and over again with quality and consistency, I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.