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Lunch at Paces 88 in the St. Regis Hotel

88roomAtlanta of late is awash in a whole lot of hotel restaurants that don’t want to be thought of as hotel restaurants. They want to be restaurant restaurants.

Brand name concepts (BLT Steak, Craft) and separate street entrances with distinctive architecture  (Pacci, Market) try to indicate that these restaurants exist for Atlantans as well as hotel guests.

The St. Regis in Buckhead draws a good happy hour crowd to its bar — particularly on warm days when the crowd can spill onto the patio. But its grand dining room, Paces 88, hasn’t struck too resonant a chord yet. Recently the restaurant unveiled a more casual menu, with more plates to share, sandwiches and other friendly, accessible items.

I stopped by for lunch with a couple of friends the other day to check it out. We were the only people in the restaurant. The service staff actually outnumbered us, but they didn’t hover at all. In fact, the service was really excellent.

Here’s what we got:

88musselsMy friend ordered these mussels in a coconut curry cream. The one she gave me to try still had its beard (the hairy filaments that attach the mollusk to rocks) attached. I also noted that a number of the mussels had not opened, and after prying apart as many as she could, my friend gave up. The yellow sauce was tasty — sharp with curry and very rich.

88tartI went for this goat cheese tart — basically a round of nicely puffed puff pastry slathered with warm, melty cheese, then topped with roasted tomatoes and a tuft of nicely dressed arugula. I enjoyed it.

These meals each cost $15 — not outrageous, but not cheap.

Alas, my first impression is this: Hotel food.

12 comments Add your comment

rebelliousrose

May 26th, 2010
1:08 pm

Did you get to meet the charming general manager, Roy Jurdak? Paces 88 poached him from Joel (Joel’s huge loss) and he lights up a dining room.

Puerquito

May 26th, 2010
1:43 pm

John Mariani sure knows how to pick restaurants that are compltetely irrelevant to the country’s dining scene.

Sorka

May 26th, 2010
2:27 pm

I can’t understand why the kitchen staff at this restaurant doesn’t know how to clean or prepare mussels! That’s pretty basic stuff, even for non-professional cooks.

Puerquito

May 26th, 2010
2:33 pm

@ Sorka: Atlanta is not known for its talent pool (cook wise)

East Lake Ira

May 26th, 2010
3:37 pm

What a shame… was considering an in-town vacation there but if the food isn’t equal to the hotel I’ll keep looking…

RK

May 26th, 2010
5:12 pm

rebelliousrose: thanks for the tip. He was a really nice guy.

Parqueto Piso

May 26th, 2010
5:25 pm

Hmmm – not the best review. I am floor’d.

HotlantaHobo

May 26th, 2010
7:36 pm

Not too surprising here…..this semi-formal dining room is doomed to the same fate as the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. The market here is young and doesn’t do formal multi-coursed meals. The middle-aged and older worldly connoisseur market here is quite small and dwindling. A few places can and do accommodate most of their business.

And I would agree with @Puerquito about the kitchen staffing problems. The Asian restaurants tend to be staffed by natives and family members so the cooks are working in their native cuisine. But in European and American restaurants the staff tends to be unskilled Central American immigrants who did not train in the outstanding kitchens of their native countries. They are trying to prepare cuisines they don’t understand and have had little training in. I wouldn’t do very well trying to prepare the foods of a country I’d never experienced either.

I’m not sure why so few local people choose to work in restaurant kitchens here. I travel to many other cities and don’t see this same problem. Maybe more culinary vo-tech type public education programs would help. This is a huge industry.

joebatch

May 27th, 2010
10:46 am

the answer to the question for HotlantaHobo,maybe it’s those restaurants would much rather hire people they don’t have to pay the going wage,benefits or treat their employees with respect.they can make more money for themselves by paying slave wages under the table and nothing else and have a pipeline for others to come in as needed so why bother to try to get a job in these places if you are a legal citizen. been there,done that.

Darin

May 27th, 2010
11:21 am

My default expectation for a blandly luxurious restaurant in a blandly luxurious hotel is for the food to be overpriced and prepared without creativity or love. The real surprise would be to find excellent food (or at least my idea of ‘excellent food’) in a place like this.

I agree with HotlantaHobo’s statement: “The middle-aged and older worldly connoisseur market here is quite small and dwindling. A few places can and do accommodate most of their business.”

The super-expensive, multi-course, luxurious restaurant experience is a small, niche market in Atlanta and getting smaller. Creative food, prepared by professionals who love their craft, is available in places that have a relaxed atmosphere and a more fairly-priced menu. I remember a time in Atlanta when people of modest income couldn’t expect to find exciting restaurant food in their price range, but that hasn’t been the case for many years now and I hope things stay this way.

HotlantaHobo

May 27th, 2010
11:56 am

@Darin, I think any sort of even bistro-style multi-course meal of any complexity is generally unappealing to the younger markets, not just in Atlanta but all over. This is a generation that sadly was too often allowed chicken nuggets while their parents ate “grandma” food and never acquired a taste for anything beyond the safe and bland. This doesn’t bode well for fine dining’s future. There has been a bright spot in the gourmet pizza market since this is the other food besides chicken nuggets that these kids ate and it does lend itself to artisanal products.

While there are informal restaurants with ambitious modern menus here, they aren’t cheap. When I go online and look at the menus and order a “fantasy” meal of three courses with a modest wine and add 26% for tax and tip it seems I’m always staring at a $100 bill.

jw

May 27th, 2010
12:17 pm

We dined there a few months ago. We weren’t the only ones in the dining room and patio but pretty darn close. Also had the muscles (sic) and the sauce was the main redeeming part of the dish. Pretty small serving. Tuna tartare was so-so. Don’t remember what else we had but it did feel like hotel food in a hotel. Can’t say that about Craftbar or the Dining room at the Ritz (RIP). Neither felt like a hotel or what you expect for hotel food.