The Chastain, which opened November 9th, replaces long-standing institution The Horseradish Grill. As the only restaurant in the Chastain Park neighborhood, the all-day establishment already has an edge with its placement directly across from the park and heavy foot traffic—two crucial criteria for a restaurant’s success.
But the real story at The Chastain is Executive Chef & Operating Partner Christopher Grossman who, until recently, helmed fine-dining superstar Atlas at The St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead where he showcased classic European precision and technique. Getting a chef of this pedigree was a real win for ASH Ventures, a local investor group led by Andy Heyman.
“I was not looking to leave Atlas. I did not accomplish everything that I wanted to over there,” Grossman says. Yet, when Heyman approached Grossman about joining a project in the former Horseradish Grill space and asked what it would take for him to leave Atlas, Grossman was intrigued. “My response was a garden, and he told me I was in luck.” Within minutes of visiting the property, Grossman knew it was where he was supposed to be.
Given the setting, The Chastain draws on the surrounding park as a design element. Falling leaves flow from the old oak tree of the terrace which you can see from the dining room’s large windows. From the indoor dining room and outdoor patio in the garden, you can look from one end of the property to the other through the restaurant. Openness and connectedness was the goal of Grossman’s vision for the restaurant’s design. “Why not showcase the garden?” he says.
The vibe here is more of an everyday neighborhood restaurant with a high level of service, but still relaxed and comfortable. Grossman says he was already starting to shift in this direction while still at Atlas. He began by reducing the number of components in his dishes. (“Take it off, and do we miss it? And if we do not, let it go.”) The chef says self-editing is difficult for even the best chefs, but he formed his new menus by simply making what he wanted to be eating every day. “Sometimes I want just to make a good roast and utilize the beautiful vegetables coming in from our vendors,” he says.
Tying in what he gets from farmers and other local purveyors gives the food a greater sense of connection and place. Just like his cooking at Atlas, the ingredients drive the menu at The Chastain. Everything from chef Christian Castillo’s exceptional breakfast pastries to the ketchup served alongside the cheeseburger and fries is homemade. At dinner, dishes such as Lobster Agnolotti—made with a butter-poached Maine lobster, fine herbs, crumbs, sugar snap peas, and chanterelles—are refined but still approachable. “We wanted aspects of fine dining. We enjoyed the service and the quality of ingredients, but not necessarily wagyu beef and caviar,” Grossman explains. “But [instead] maybe grass-fed beef, or something that was foraged. The food could be every bit as great, and it does not have to be plated quite as meticulously; just be prepared fundamentally sound.”
Because The Chastain opened during the pandemic, Grossman is still learning how to operate as safely as possible. “There are still things that we did not expect, but we have learned from those mistakes and are continually adjusting to them,” says Grossman. The restaurant offers outdoor seating (where a new tent cover has just been installed), a grab-and-go counter, a forthcoming to-go service, and QR codes for menus. “We are social distancing, distributing masks to people that do not bring them and asking everyone to wear masks, unless they are at their table actively eating,” Grossman says.
He adds that the restaurant is not yet serving lunch because he doesn’t want to overwhelm the staff within the first weeks. “Everyone is working very hard. But I do not see the need to burn them out to force something if it is not ready,” Grossman says.
Such respect for his staff will surely take the chef a long way as he embarks on this new endeavor. He’s relying on the team and setting himself and them up for success. “My approach to my entire career is to find somebody that can do it better than you, work with them, learn from them, and try to help them,” Grossman says. “You get some exciting things out of people, and overall, they are happier.” And at the helm of his first solo project as a chef, Grossman seems happier too. If the buzz and dearth of dinner reservations are any indications, he’s got a hit on his hands.