Food Issue - Around the world: Los Angeles

The effortless cool of Aria

Thursday October 21, 2010 04:00 am EDT

Atlanta has always been good at slick. There are restaurants here that are obviously aiming for the cool, flashy elegance of Los Angeles. But most miss the mark in the details, the quality of the food, and the kind of attitude that comes from effortlessly being cool rather than trying really hard to be cool.

But there's one restaurant in Atlanta that channels the kind of modernity that feels classic and timeless and undeniably American, and that's Aria. From the waiters in their crisp pastel shirts complete with stylish cuff links to the grand white room to chef Gerry Klaskala's impeccable New American cuisine, Aria could easily be a swank spot for in-the-know Angelinos.

The space, designed by the elite Johnson Studio, is still astonishing even 10 years after the restaurant became Aria. The stark whiteness is broken up only by bejeweled dog sculptures perched between columns that frame the room. Then there's the highly erotic glass sculpture that hangs from the middle of the ceiling, part flower, part sex organ, part alien life form.

Klaskala does very little in the way of experimentation on his menu, opting instead to do classic flavor combinations and do them far better than almost anyone else in town. Featherweight lemon ricotta ravioli are punctuated by the freshest spears of asparagus, sweet bursts of corn, and just enough salt and heft in the form of prosciutto. Unlike most chefs' habit of oversweetening foie gras dishes, the kitchen here goes for acid as a counterpoint to all that rich, meat-butter goodness. Balance is king on Aria's menus; robust tomato salad tops the veal schnitzel, cutting though the meat and crunch with juicy aplomb. Kathryn King's celebrated desserts, and service, overseen by rock star general manager and sommelier Andres Loaiza, ratchet up the experience from pleasurable to downright memorable. Put all this together — the space, the feel, the food, the chill electronica soundtrack — and you get a restaurant that exists in the cool middle ground between trendy and timeless.

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