Chris McDade, the opening chef at KR Steakbar, has left the restaurant to go work in one called…
…wait for it….
Marta. Yes, Marta. Although it won’t be located in the Lindbergh Center station.
Marta will, in fact, open soon in New York and specialize in thin-crusted Roman-style pizza. (Arrivederci, napolitani!) With the move, McDade not only returns to New York but also to his former employer, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.
I think McDade’s move is a loss for Atlanta. Though his culinary personality perhaps played a supporting role to the much larger, bolder one of his boss, Kevin Rathbun, it came through in the details at this hybrid restaurant, which is part steak house and part Italian. He had a touch, especially with pasta, paying attention to texture and garnishing with restraint. He understood that a great bowl of pasta doesn’t beg to be loved, but instead earns your admiration the deeper you get into it.
I recently returned to KR Steakbar for my first meal since McDade’s departure, and the pastas all seemed to lack that little something that made them so destination worthy before. Garganelli seemed dense, a touch gummy and unlike the rolled and ridged tube I expected. Tonnarelli with pecorino cheese and black pepper (cacio e pepe, a famous Roman dish) was more peppery and less creamy than in the past, likable but not swoon-able. Thick, soft spaghetti wasn’t quite texturally interesting enough to twirl around the tender, herbed shrimp dotting it. We ended up picking out the shrimp.
That said, the rest of the meal was very good. New chef Brian Goddard and his talented sous chef Jessica Gamble have settled into a menu that goes in myriad appealing directions. Perhaps the best way to explore all of them is to order the “chef’s picks” for $55 per guest. Ideal for a table of four, this menu comes out in five family-style courses, starting with cheese and salumi.
A standout among the appetizers, which followed, was a house-made duck sausage with peaches, pickled chilies and arugula. Actually, this delicious, grill-crisped coil was more of a multi-critter affair, plumped up with pork fat and stuffed into a lamb casing. Also very fine: a crostini piled high with fromage blanc, summer vegetables and wild mushrooms. The kitchen was using local lion’s mane mushrooms, which have an intriguing feathery texture but mildly bitter flavor. I hear chanterelles and morels sometimes make an appearance on this dish. Can I get a Google alert?
After pasta came a couple of entrees and side vegetables for the table to share. A fantastic, melty ribeye arrived sliced, tanged up with balsamic and capped with arugula. Meat heaven. A flattened boneless chicken breast sported a crisp skin and cottoned up nicely to its simple vinegar jus spiced with Calabrian chile. I enjoyed it well enough, but a chicken needs its bones to show its potential.
We limped across the finish line to each take a bite of a buttery, little ricotta and fig crostada with honey-lavender ice cream. But we called it quits partway into a brûlée lemon tart that could have used a bit more tang.
There’s also a lot of wine passion at this restaurant, starting with general manager Clay Williams and continuing through to a couple of staffers whom I had met when we took our entry-level sommelier certification together. Such is my indirect way of saying that I was certainly recognized as a dining critic. But I did take a moment to hover by the restroom alcove and watch the service, and there seemed to be a lot of happy, well cared-for customers in the room.
In fact, not that KR Steakbar is no longer the jamming hotspot and more like a normally busy restaurant, the experience feels so much better. The lighting is so perfect on a summer evening, and the sheer, translucent drapes hanging in the center of the room reinforce the easy, breezy vibe of this appealing spot. Maybe the pasta isn’t what it once was but, hey, who needs the carbs?
349 Peachtree Hills Ave, Atlanta, 404-841-9670, krsteakbar.com, $$$-$$$$