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Kevin Rathbun expands his realm

The dining room at KR SteakBar (all photos by Becky Stein)

The dining room at KR SteakBar (all photos by Becky Stein)

Kevin Rathbun is not the chef whose name routinely appears on restaurant awards ballots. You will likely never see him on “Chopped,” scurrying to finish a dish that contains squid, Hershey’s Kisses and creamed corn before the bell goes off. Nor is he apt to grace a multi-paged spread in a glossy magazine, entertaining friends on his patio with champagne and canapes.

But he is, perhaps, the chef who enjoys the best kind of celebrity in Atlanta. His fans here don’t admire him so much as love him. His restaurants have a special quality — that thing that your favorite spot in New Orleans or Rome has, that generous personality, that shaggy ease.

Mushroom salad with charred lettuce sauce

Mushroom salad with charred lettuce sauce

His food can sometimes be too rich and salty for my taste, and his Johnston Studio-designed warehouse dining rooms too noisy. But there’s such vitality afoot that I always have a blast. I always find the dishes to love, the conversation worth shouting for, the wine that merits a second bottle. I’ll spend a little too much and leave feeling a little too full. And I won’t care. This is why you dine.

This past month Rathbun opened his fourth Atlanta restaurant — KR SteakBar in the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center in Buckhead.

For the chef it’s a bit of a homecoming. Before he opened three restaurants in a once-derelict/now-trendy industrial edge of Inman Park, he made his name locally for his work with the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. He prepared Southwestern fare at Nava and then continued on as a corporate chef, reworking the menus at the group’s other properties, including BluePointe and the Buckhead Diner. He knows this crowd.

“A lot of people told me they were sick of driving to Inman Park and wanted me back in Buckhead,” Rathbun said. “I wanted to diversify beyond my little corner.”

Chef de cuisine Chris McDade (left) with Kevin Rathbun

Chef de cuisine Chris McDade (left) with Kevin Rathbun

If you know Rathbun’s or Kevin Rathbun Steak, you will recognize the vibe and guiding spirit here even as you pick your way through the new menu. Working with chef de cuisine Chris McDade, an alumnus of Italian restaurant Maialino in New York, Rathbun has fashioned a surprising lineup of Italian pastas, steaks and small plates. Unlike his other restaurants, where the “second mortgage plates” appeal to big spenders, Rathbun keeps the prices down to appeal to neighbors and steak portions the “size of a deck of cards” to appeal to women.

I’ll leave it to Jenny Turknett to fully explore the menu here and determine a star rating. But I will offer up this comparison of Rathbun’s four restaurants:

1. Rathbun’s

Year opened: 2004

Current chef de cuisine: Nick Anderson

Style: “We’re all over the board,” Rathbun said. “It’s all about having fun and being an eclectic restaurant.” The chef claims he was influenced by his time at Baby Routh, a Dallas restaurant where he trained.

Interesting design feature: the vast open-air patio set on the old loading dock. Heaters keep it habitable for most of the year. Seating is first come-first served, and conversation is much easier than in the noisy, open dining room.

Must-order dishes: crab tart, Yia-Yia’s eggplant fries with powdered sugar, quartet of mini-desserts.

Best time to go: early in the evening when patio seats are plentiful.

Info:112 Krog St., Atlanta. 404-524-8280. $$$-$$$$

2. Krog Bar

Year opened: 2005

Current chef de cuisine: Raj Kotecha

Style: Spanish tapas and wine bar. Rathbun took over the lease on this tiny space from a public relations firm, which relocated. It serves as an unofficial holding pen for walk-in guests who are waiting for a table at Rathbun’s and need a little bite and glass of wine.

Interesting design feature: This 750-square-foot shoebox is paneled in grooved, pitted pecky cypress.

Must-order dish: salumi and trammezzini finger sandwiches.

Best time to go: before 6 p.m. on a warm afternoon when you’re stealing time. The patio is perfection before the crowds come.

Info: 112 Krog St., Atlanta. 404-524-8580. $$

3. Kevin Rathbun Steak

Year opened: 2007

Current chef de cuisine: Andre Gomez

Style: “It’s a new-guard steakhouse,” Rathbun said. “There’s a focus on appetizers and sides, so it’s approachable to women. I always knew I wanted to open a steakhouse, because they stand the test of time. They’re more secure than a restaurant with an edgy menu.”

Interesting design feature: the creepily oversized portrait of Rathbun that hangs in the dining room. Somehow it doesn’t translate as pure ego, but rather an extension of the chef’s oversized personality.

Must-order dish: dry-aged porterhouse for two, sweet potato gratin, the bar burger.

Best time to go: anytime; it’s always a party.

Info: 154 Krog St., Atlanta. 404-524-5600. $$$$

4. KR Steakbar

Year opened: 2013

Current chef de cuisine: Chris McDade

Style: “We’re calling it an Italian steakhouse,” Rathbun said. “Chris makes all the pastas. He also does a lot with what he calls ‘the fifth cut’ — the variety meats. There’s a tonnarelli pasta with pig trotters and a lamb heart tartare.”

Interesting design feature: Guests walk past a window to the kitchen as they enter the restaurant.

Must-order dish: mushroom salad with a charred lettuce sauce; that tonnarelli, which is delectable.

Best time to go: whenever you can get in; this restaurant is incessantly jammed.

Info: 349 Peachtree Hills Ave., Atlanta. 404-841-8820. $$$-$$$$

18 comments Add your comment

e

March 21st, 2013
7:08 am

Rathbun and his brother were on Iron Chef together, and they won, against Bobby Flay, if I remember correctly. But whomever it was they won. You might see his chef de cuisine on chopped though.

Dana F. Blankenhorn

March 21st, 2013
7:49 am

The Rathbuns beat Bobby Flay with elk, if memory serves That’s as much of an upset as beating Chef Sakai with fish on the Japanese version of the show. But I think the point has some merit. Rathbun doesn’t push that kind of celebrity, and hasn’t been back for a second helping. And the show proved he knows exactly how to do your steak, because again (if memory serves) he and his brother just threw some slabs on the grill while Bobby went sort of twee and even made a hamburger.

mandym

March 21st, 2013
8:40 am

Delicious food but tiny portions for big prices (and I never finish what I order). Genereal consensus among early diners agreed. Won’t matter though, place was mobbed both times we went

Fatty from Cobb

March 21st, 2013
10:12 am

No matter what the article is about I like to cmment on small portions and high prices.
In other words I am overweight and cheap and don’t get fine dining at all.
See you at the Olive Garden on Barrett Parkway.
Don’t forget your coupons!

ITPShawty

March 21st, 2013
10:46 am

are we still washing our hands in a port-a-potty?

Sarah

March 21st, 2013
10:47 am

KR Steakbar is amazing! I’ve eaten there three times and every meal has been perfection!

Edward

March 21st, 2013
12:21 pm

I like that I can have a great meal and not leave half a plate of food on the table. Really, if you “never finish what you order”, then aren’t you wasting a lot? This idea of wasting so much food needs to stop. Ever since attending a cooking seminar led by Mr. Rathbun, I’ve appreciated his style and certainly the food he produces. I’ve not tried the newest restaurant, yet, but it is on my to-do list. I usually wait about 6 months before trying a new place.

Jennifer

March 21st, 2013
1:50 pm

“You will likely never see him on ‘Chopped.’”
No, but you will see him on Iron Chef.
“Nor is he apt to grace a multi-paged spread in a glossy magazine.”
Except for this online magazine with a multi-photo spread of his home and kitchen where he talked about entertaining:
http://atlanta.eater.com/archives/2012/06/19/a-tour-of-kevin-rathbuns-personal-kitchen.php

So, yeah, there’s that.

blackland

March 21st, 2013
8:54 pm

I commend KR for opening something upscale that isn’t snouts and tails, gastropub, etc… The food was good, something different, the service was excellent, found a really nice Barolo at a reasonable price. Order a bunch of plates to share, enjoy; I am sure your pie-hole will feel stuffed eventually if this is what you are looking for in a restaurant.

Edward

March 22nd, 2013
3:05 pm

blackland: exactly! What’s with this trend of serving offal at filet mignon prices?

Irishman

March 25th, 2013
8:23 am

After eating in Kevin’s restaurants for years I keep coming back for the reasons that are crucial to me in a restaurant. The service is always great, personable, and warm such that it makes me feel like they want me there. The food is always outstanding, though not an adventurous diner when I do foray outside of the comfort zone I have yet to be dissapointed. I leave, as Kessler stated, a bit too full, but who cares I had a great evening, like after leaving a good friends home. KR Steakbar does have smaller portions, but I tried several items, which were excellent, and left full and happy that I had dined there.

ATLEater

March 25th, 2013
9:29 am

Dear Ford Fry,

I had a reservation at your restaurant The Optimist for this coming Saturday. After reading your commentary on this article, I have since canceled it.

It’s a real shame that one successful chef in Atlanta can’t support another, and, furthermore, said chef goes so far as to take credit for another’s accomplishments. It’s quite sickening.

I suggest you eat a giant slice of humble pie. Sounds like you need it.

John Kessler

March 25th, 2013
1:09 pm

Don’t, ATLEaeter. That comment was bogus and has been removed.

Grumpy

March 25th, 2013
5:09 pm

Cauliflower is disgusting.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs to just stop what they’re doing and realize that cauliflower is gross. It has no color, flavor or texture.
It looks like an embarassing skin condition.
But is it good as a garnish? No.
How about soup? Never.
But still ok in a crudite, right? Not if you want anyone to come to your wedding.
Whenever I see it on the menu or hear the server mention it I have to think about something else really hard so I don’t get upset.

Edward

March 26th, 2013
9:12 am

I knew there was no way such a comment was from the real Ford Fry. Internet trolls are becoming a huge nuisance.

Cobra

March 26th, 2013
10:19 am

Edward:

You’re just mad because you incorrectly believed the comment was made by the real Ford Fry.
Trolls are not the problem. People like you and ATLEater who can’t tell the difference are the problem.

Also, I agree with Grumpy.

Edward

March 26th, 2013
3:40 pm

Cobra, you’re so out of line. I never once thought that comment was real. Most likely, you’re the troll behind that comment as well as “grumpy”. You’re making the internet a nasty place and devaluing any sort of communication that these forums might have. Stop being so infantile.

Lu Lu Bak

March 27th, 2013
11:58 am

Edward:
Why you so mad?
You just need relax.
That’s it.
Just relax.
There.
That good for you?