Paces 88 American Bistro — the luxuriously appointed dining room in the St. Regis Hotel — bucked the trend away from fine dining when it opened in April 2009 with a high-ticket gourmet menu. Dishes such as the $35 roasted Carolina Squab with hedgehog mushrooms and caramelized pear caught the attention of Esquire Magazine’s roving restaurant-goer John Mariani, who proclaimed it one of the 20 best new restaurants in America. He praised the melding of “French-American and southern culinary traditions into seamless cuisine that befits both the hotel’s deluxe trappings and Atlanta’s eminence as a southern city.”
Hold that pigeon.
On Monday the hotel’s general manager, Simon Rusconi, announced that the restaurant will take a turn for the casual beginning March 1. “We’re taking it in a lighter direction, with sandwiches and salads at lunch and dinner,” he said. “We’ll also have a big sharing section on the menu. People love to share these days.”
Executive chef Mark Alba, who will stay in his role, developed the new, Houston’s-style bar-and-grill menu. Cobb salad, club sandwiches and burgers keep company with Thai beef noodle salad, salmon flatbread and fried calamari. Guests who still want a more formal dining experience will be able to order from a trim list of entrees — none surpassing $30 in price. Right up there is the $30 “luxury burger” with foie gras and prosciutto.
“A lot of guests come in around 10 p.m. and want a really good burger,” said Rusconi.
Without ever claiming that the current menu — with its $42 rib eye steak — priced itself out of reach for many diners, Rusconi did point to popular success elsewhere in the hotel. The bar and adjacent wine room (with its sci-fi display of recumbent wine bottles behind glass walls) has become popular with locals who come in the late afternoon for drinks and light fare. This happy-hour crowd spills out onto the patio, which will also undergo a bit of a makeover with new new umbrellas and furnishings. Rusconi hopes the patio will channel some of that vivacious bar energy into the more staid Paces 88.
“We think the new menu will reflect that patio experience and the outdoors,” he said.