At Aria, fine dining gets comfortable with curbside

This takeout family meal for two from Aria includes a Caesar salad, oven-roasted filet of halibut in clam and tomato broth, and chicken parmigiana with baked cavatappi pasta. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
Caption
This takeout family meal for two from Aria includes a Caesar salad, oven-roasted filet of halibut in clam and tomato broth, and chicken parmigiana with baked cavatappi pasta. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

For more than 20 years, the Buckhead fine dining restaurant Aria has enjoyed a loyal following, while serving as one of Atlanta’s most beloved special occasion destinations, and a discreet go-to spot for visiting celebrities.

Chef-owner Gerry Klaskala cooks the kind of technically serious but unfussy food his devotees crave, from perfectly executed seasonal vegetable and seafood dishes to the signature short rib of beef.

Aria chef Gerry Klaskala currently is concentrating on comfort food. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL
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Aria chef Gerry Klaskala currently is concentrating on comfort food. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

Klaskala, who opened Canoe in the mid-1990s, and was the consulting chef when Atlas opened in early 2015, calls the kitchen at Aria his home base. It’s where he works most days.

In 2016, when Aria underwent a makeover after some 16 years in business, Klaskala said he’d chosen to stay in his kitchen all this time because “that’s where my comfort and joy is.”

Aria temporarily closed its dining room on March 19. Since then, Klaskala, working with one other chef and longtime Aria general manager and wine director Andres Loaiza, has been offering a limited menu for curbside pickup five nights a week.

Don’t go online to order expecting anything like Aria’s regular menu, though. Instead, the family meal for two offers the likes of meatloaf, chicken parm, and hearty fish dishes, served with soups, salads and homey sides like whipped potatoes, spring peas and carrots, and baked pasta. There’s a choice of two entrees each night, and you can opt for one of each.

Minestrone soup with spinach and white beans was part of an Aria takeout family meal. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
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Minestrone soup with spinach and white beans was part of an Aria takeout family meal. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

Another option is sliced house-smoked salmon for two, bagels, cream cheese, onions and capers, with coffee you can brew. And, Loaiza is overseeing the Drink Our Cellar program, with 50% off bottles from Aria’s wine cellar available for curbside pickup, as well as daily pairing suggestions.

“The only thing I’m trying to do right now is comfort food,” Klaskala said during a recent phone conversation. “I’m doing childhood memories. I’m doing things I like to eat. I’m doing some dishes my staff likes to make. But, nothing fancy. It’s all about taste and freshness at prices I think are pretty incredible.”

Klaskala was surprisingly upbeat about switching over to curbside pickup.

This biscotti with almonds treat was included with a takeout family meal from Aria. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
Caption
This biscotti with almonds treat was included with a takeout family meal from Aria. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

“We closed exactly 20 years to the day from when we opened,” he said. “We were planning our celebration, and then all of the sudden this virus thing came sneaking up on us. Then, the order came to close all the restaurants in the city. But, it’s been busy with curbside now. Last night, we pumped out 110 dinners.”

Klaskala also is thinking ahead to the near future, when guests can return to his dining room.

“We’re setting a mid-May open date, but that is fluid, based on what we know and what’s going on,” he said. “If numbers are moving down, we’ll stay with that plan. And, if the numbers aren’t moving down, we’re going to extend it out. But, my position is that you have to have a plan.

“My mind looks forward, and embraces that. And then, every day, I’m here cooking with my favorite people. My psychological recommendation would be to put your mind on your work, quit worrying about stuff you can’t control. Do the right thing. Keep your distance, and stay safe, but get your mind into something productive.”

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ARIA

Menu: limited daily takeout family meal for two, with soup, salad, entree and sides, plus a treat sometimes; also sliced house-smoked salmon for two with bagels, cream cheese, onions and capers, plus Lakehouse ground coffee to brew at home

What's new: Drink Our Cellar, with 50% off bottles of wine available for curbside pickup

Alcohol: wine, beer and other beverages available with takeout orders

What I ordered: family meal for two with the "half and half" entree option. For $49, it included generous portions of minestrone soup with spinach and white beans, Caesar salad with croutons and Parmesan cheese, chicken parmigiana with baked cavatappi pasta, San Marzano tomato marinara, basil, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and oven-roasted filet of halibut in clam and tomato broth, with sweet red peppers, potatoes and lemon thyme. It also came with almond biscotti. Everything was very good, thoughtfully boxed for takeout, and more than ample for two. We had pasta left over, and chose to save the soup and half the salad for lunch the next day. I also splurged on a half-price ($26) bottle of 2018 Gamay Noir from Oregon's Division Wine Co. It was bright and delicious, with fresh berry notes, and it worked surprisingly well with both the saucy chicken and the more subtle fish.Service options: curbside pickup; order and pay online before 3 p.m., or over the phone after 1 p.m. with a credit card; choose a curbside pickup time; call when you arrive; orders are placed at a table outside the door, or in your trunk on request.

Service options: curbside pickup; order and pay online before 3 p.m., or over the phone after 1 p.m. with a credit card; choose a curbside pickup time; call when you arrive; orders are placed at a table outside the door, or in your trunk on request.

Safety protocols: All employees preparing food are adhering to strict sanitation guidelines. All food products are handled and prepared with gloves and overseen by a ServSafe-certified chef.

Address, phone: 490 E. Paces Ferry Road NE, Atlanta. 404-233-7673.

Hours: Order online or by phone before 3 p.m. and pick up between 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.

Websitearia-atl.com.

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