What cocktail do you drink with oysters?
A daiquiri? Ick, no. A bone-dry martini? Maybe.
It’s a question you may find yourself pondering the first time you sit down at Kimball House — the latest destination from the folks behind Brick Store Pub and Leon’s Full Service in Decatur. The restaurant offers one of the liveliest oyster services in the metro area, with more than a dozen nightly varieties available and a dedicated shucker who pries the juicy little suckers open from his berth in a special nook to the side of the bar.
It also features a compelling cocktail program overseen by partner Miles MacQuarrie, the ace drinks guy who made Leon’s such a locus of libations.
That may explain why I soon found myself with a Southern Baptist Highball — a fizzy melange of orange flavors and bourbon — with some killer killer iced Kumamoto and Shigoku oysters. Delicious on their own but disastrous together. I made quick work of the drink and ordered a glass of lean, mineral Clos Guirouilh white wine from the Jurançon region of France.
Kimball House is the fourth restaurant to make use of the old Decatur train depot. While previous tenants utilized one side of the long building for the bar and the other for a vast dining room that always felt like an empty college cafeteria during finals week, these folks have mixed things up. Bar and dining room share the better side of the building. Behold, buzz!
With its amber-toned lighting, deep scalloped booths, textured wallpaper and discreet display of taxidermy, the room looks terrifically old fashioned, like the kind of bar where Unsinkable Molly Brown would hang out and tell stories. Atlanta’s Square Feet Studio evokes the grandeur this building has long awaited. MacQuarrie and company follow suit, with classic cocktails pushed alongside newer creations, and full absinthe service with all the paraphernalia.
Much as Leon’s was big step up food-wise from Brick Store Pub, Kimball House takes this group’s ambition to a new level. In the kitchen are co-chefs Jeffrey Wall (who did a terrific job at Buckhead’s short-lived La Fourchette) and Philip Meeker (the creative chef previously at East Atlanta’s Holy Taco).
There are bar snacks, sure, but Kimball House is an actual big-ticket restaurant, with $8 salads and $28 fish entrees. The plates are huge, the better to show off the verdant vegetation, foamy dollops of sauce and poignant little leaves placed just so.
We found a salad of peppers, matchstick slivers of Jonagold apple and curls of long bean bright and interesting, if a bit acidic. But grilled Spanish mackerel smeared with a bright green paste of Castelvetrano olives and placed in a forest of gem lettuce and lobster mushroom was fantastic. The grill brought out the best of this oily fish, and my wife and I sort of inhaled it.
While I look forward to exploring the rest of the menu, I may have a hard time moving past the oysters. Oldtimers may recognize the pewter service platters, which once were used at Pano’s and Paul’s. Everyone will love the mignonette sauce, which comes not in a dish but in an eyedropper bottle. Just a drop of this vinegar-shallot goodness will do ya.
For what it’s worth: MacQuarrie recommends an “Afternoon Delight” alongside — a drink that involves absinthe and brut cava. We’ll have to see about that.