Atlanta Restaurant Scene

First Look: Oaxacan cuisine at Casi Cielo in Sandy Springs


Casi Cielo in the new Modera mixed-use development in Sandy Springs is set for a soft opening on Thursday evening with dinner by reservation only.

The new concept from La Cosecha Group, the company behind multiple metro Atlanta La Parrilla Mexican Restaurant locations, is pitched as a “chef-driven, upscale-casual dining experience featuring an artisanal Oaxacan menu.”

Executive chef Juan Ruiz grew up in Bogota, Colombia, where his mother, aunts and grandmothers inspired his cooking. He honed his skills working for celebrated chefs, including Martin Berasategui and Andres Madrigal, and in the kitchens of Michelin Star restaurants, such as Palacio de Congresos El Kursaal in Spain, and Hotel Finca Lérida in Panama.

At Casi Cielo, Ruiz expands on lessons learned from Mexican chef Abel Hernandez. And, recently, he visited Mexico to work with chef Luis Arellano at Criollo in Oaxaca City, where he studied the culture, cuisine and traditional ingredients firsthand.

“I worked two weeks in his restaurant, and he taught me the pre-Hispanic techniques of old Mexican cuisine,” Ruiz said last week, when he sat down at Casi Cielo with owner Juan Fernando Henao of the La Cosecha Group.

“In our travels, we spent time eating in the streets and stalls in the markets with Juan Fernando and all our friends, because we have many friends who are chefs in Mexico.”

Asked what he likes about the food of Oaxaca, Ruiz replied, “I like it all. All the techniques and all the products. But I want to take the indigenous cuisine more upscale.

“It’s my passion and it’s my wish to keep learning more. Every day we will create new plates, because this is an homage to Oaxaca and the Mexican people. ”

To that end, the opening menu features dishes to share such as Aguachile Verde de Pescado, delicately sliced halibut with citrus powder and chile jalapeño sauce. And Tlayuda Garden of Oaxaca, a crispy hand-pressed house corn tortilla topped pureed black beens, queso, cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, avocado, and micro greens. But more elemental, there’s a hefty bone-in ribeye, simply served with cilantro chimichurri.

The 135-seat Casi Cielo space includes a patio and spacious bar area. The open, retro-modern look features warm wood tones found in plank floors and a decorative lattice ceiling, and extend to layered textures, including Mexican tiles.

The beverage program is concentrated on Mezcal, with as many as 50 different offerings, in addition to rum and other spirits used in house cocktails. Mexican, Spanish and local beer and wines from Spanish-speaking countries, including Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, Mexico and Chile, round out the drinks list.

And then there’s the water, which is infused daily with fruits, flowers and herbs in a SonicPrep Ultrasonic Homogenize machine that uses sound waves to create custom flavors and aromas.

Henao, who started in the La Parrilla family business at 16 as a dishwasher, talked about his vision for Casi Cielo as a place focused on flavor and hospitality.

“The idea is that everything we put on the table has flavor, even the water,” Henao said. “We’re doing artisanal food with a little bit of technology. We have a charcoal grill we brought from Barcelona, but we also have a combi oven. We took the measurements for the tortilla press from one the markets in Oaxaca. All the salsas are made with a molcajete.

“After 25 years of La Parrilla, the challenge was to do something different, starting with the design. And with the menu, we definitely took a whole different approach. But Casi Cielo means almost heaven, so the main idea is that the food is so good, and you’re going to have so much fun, that in order to make it better, you have to die and go to heaven.”

Hours of operation for Casi Cielo’s soft opening are 6-9 p.m. Guests can make reservations by phone at 404-549-9411. 

6125 Roswell Road Atlanta. 404-343-3571, casicieloatl.com.

Scroll down for more for more images from a First Look at Casi Cielo in Sandy Springs

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The Food & Dining Team offers reviews, previews, food news and fun bites food trends for metro Atlanta’s vast food and dining scene.