Atlantans do love to be on the cutting edge of something new and different when chasing the dining scene. That combined with the halo around Sandy Springs makes Casi Cielo Cocina Mexicana, the gourmet ingénue sporting Oaxacan cuisine, not the same old rice and beans.
Oaxaca (pronounced Wah-haw-kah) is one of the 32 entities in Mexico, and is known for its ruggedness, long Pacific coastline, 16 recognized types of indigenous peoples, and biodiversity.
I vacationed at a family Club Med in Huatulco, Oaxaca, decades ago, and was told to not venture outside the walls of the property. Cuisine-wise, Casi Cielo boasts the mezcal and smoky flavors of this region along with handmade corn tostadas.
Many of the cocktails also incorporate the smoky flavor like Paloma Negra: Sombra Espadín, Joven Mezcal, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and agave with volcanic salt. The carrot orange mimosa seemed interesting. I had a refreshing Campo Viejo Cava Brut-Rosé to combat the heat wave outdoors.
For a Tuesday night, there were no available tables, so there was bit of a wait. Contributing to this was the extreme heat where normally another 30 (plus the 120 indoors) could have dined outside.
The patio is smack on Roswell Road, but the vibe of being in the Modera apartment complex makes for a city/suburbia atmosphere. There is valet parking, but we chose complimentary parking in the rear. The festive art panels on the building exterior announce that something special is inside.
Like Rumi’s Kitchen directly across the street, the dining room had more than its share of Jewish patrons. When asked about this, the cordial general manager Hector Londono, a native Columbian, said “We know how to accommodate our audience in Sandy Springs.”
Since it’s not the traditional burrito/nacho Mexican fare, the check may not be modest. The menu is divided into Momento segments. The lubina entrée was $30 and filling, but add a drink, starter/salad and split a dessert, and it can tally up. The kitchen is well equipped, and one can expect to see executive chef Juan Ruiz hustling to line up the orders and assure each dish comes out resembling an artist’s palette.
All tables get servicio de tostadas, handmade blue corn tostadas in a clay comal, served with red and green sauce. The menu notes if you ask for additional sauce, there will be a $7 charge.
How the tastes flowed:
Aguachile de Pescado: Sliced halibut in citrus powder with chile jalapeño sauce was rolled in vertical stacks and abundant with flavor.
Tartar de Atún (tuna): A ramekin shape layered with mango, avocado and chile powder.
Guacamole Frito de Hierbas: The mashed avocados were feathered with microgreens which made for a nice touch, with kale on top. Less heavy on the salt would have let the greens shine better.
Fish Tacos: Mahi-mahi tempura, coleslaw, carrots, chile powder, chipotle aioli, aguacatada sauce. The tacos were on the small side, and we peeled off the deep-fried coating to find a thick, tasty white fish inside.
Pan Seared Lubina: A rock star entrée. Branzino placed on corn purée and green chiles, with habanero and chili aioli was worth fighting over.
Planning choices for the next visit:
Gazpacho Mexicano: Fresh pineapple, unusual raw tuna, and chile powder.
Salmón Prehispánico: Wrapped in plantain leaf and tortilla dough with potatoes.
Coliflor al Josper: Cauliflower, piperrada, lemon, chile powder, guajillo oil and pumpkin seeds.
Also Notable: Atomatada eggplant; epazote (medicinal herb); Olives; Esquites (grilled street corn off the cobb); Asparagus; or Onions toreadas.
There are dozens more menu items such as langostino, duck and octopus that this reviewer eschewed; but may be someone else’s idea of a real treat. A nice touch was the server setting up a purse “tree stand” to clear the floor and let diners keep an eye on their property.
The restaurant bills itself as the largest mezcal collection in Atlanta with “small pieces from heaven.” Its name itself means “half sky.” Certain momentos are just that. Good idea to take a Spanish-English dictionary.
Casi Cielo is located at 6125 Roswell Road, a bit north of I-285.