By Hope S. Philbrick
A friend of mine fell in love with her now-husband when she stepped into his shed and saw how well he organized his tools (labels were involved and she swooned). Hard not to imagine things might have turned out differently if she’d seen this restaurant’s walk-in first. It’s a beautiful thing, a term that rarely applies to a packed refrigerator. Here you’ll find a gardenful of color stacked in neat rows; it’s impressive and mouthwatering.
Casi Cielo (Spanish for “almost heaven”) offers Atlanta’s only traditional Oaxacan dining. We can only hope the food served in heaven is this WOW-inspiring.
Threesomes hold no interest for me unless we’re talking about a shared plate of food. When the Tamal de Langosta (lobster tamale) was set on the table between me and my husband, we both picked up our forks and behaved in the manner of civilized people who know how to divvy up food. After all, we’d managed to do just that with three preceding courses. But this dish was too good for polite democracy. It sparked a feverish passion that intensified with each forkful. We shared, reluctantly, each trying to grab bigger bites faster, knowing that what we each really wanted was to have the whole thing to ourselves. The dish, and especially the sauce, is truly mind-blowingly good.
“I’m going to get this every time I come here!” I told our new best friend, the guy who kept bringing dishes to our table. Not knowing what to order, we let the staff make those decisions. There were no disappointments.
There was one dare, though: Near the end of the meal a grasshopper arrived atop a slice of orange alongside some mezcal. The restaurant proudly boasts over 50 different mezcals—the largest collection in Atlanta. (Mezcal or mescal is a Mexican distilled spirit made from agave, as is also true of tequila—there are differences in how mezcal and tequila are produced, including the types of agave used). When we were told that brown/green nugget was a grasshopper, me and my husband looked at each other, our eyes double-dog-daring the other to eat it, and then we both did because neither was willing to show weakness at that point of the meal or marriage. (And, anyway, I’d eaten bugs before—I’m a professional food writer! I’ve eaten a lot of things! Try it, you might like it! My tip if you’re squeamish and find yourself in this same situation: Roll up the orange slice around the grasshopper and take a bite. You won’t even taste it, just boldly plow through the crunch.)
No matter how much you love Mexican food, this menu may seem foreign. Trust your gut, make random picks, or get advice from your server. Truth is, however you decide what to order here, you can’t go wrong. Every plate is delicious.
There’s a lot of fish on the menu. Oaxaca, located in Southwestern Mexico, is one of the country’s most biologically diverse states and is lapped by the Pacific Ocean on its south side. But if you want to avoid seafood, or raw seafood, or red meat, or gluten, or any particular food group, fear not: There’s a lot of diversity on this menu. As we did, you will find something to love so much you won’t want to share.
Executive Chef Juan Pablo Ruiz is giving traditional dishes a modern spin with results that make taste buds do a happy dance. He achieves the rare sort of delicious that has you craving more even as you’re eating it.
Fresh, seasonal ingredients are showcased. On the new summer menu, don’t miss Burrata al Josper, a Mexican spin on a caprese salad with tomatoes, guajillo oil, chile powder and greens. Scoop it up with hot, fresh, just-made blue corn tortillas that are even better than you might imagine. Dig into guacamole made with some fried kale for added texture. I don’t know how you can choose between Tacos de Tuetano (roasted beef bone marrow, lamb with chimichurri) and the Pato con Mole Negro (duck carnitas with mole sauce)—so order both! If by some chance you end up with leftovers, take them home and thank yourself for the best lunch ever the next day.
The cocktails are just as yummy and creative as the food. Whether you want to sip something spicy or sweet, savory or refreshing, you’ll find an option on this bar menu. A bright red concoction that looks like sangria is actually a spirited mix that includes a traditional flavor blend that can even be found in lollipops in Mexico. More than one drink features pineapple; they’re prepared so differently the fruit tastes different in each one.
Casi Cielo is owned by the hospitality group that also owns La Parrilla Mexican Restaurant. It’s billed as a “chef-driven, upscale-casual dining experience featuring an artisanal Oaxacan menu.”
It is a mouthwatering reason to visit Sandy Springs.
6125 Roswell Road
@21plusTip: Need to stash your purse or jacket? This restaurant offers the cutest, most useful short little coat racks! Set one by your chair and keep your lap free of clutter!
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion. Thanks to Casi Cielo and Green Olive Media for hosting our first visit.