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Sun Dial reopens tomorrow with new menu after renovation

Chef Jason Starnes explains the changes

The Sun Dial Restaurant, Bar & View, perched atop the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel downtown with a rotating 360 degree view of Atlanta, will reopen Tuesday after closing for renovations in April. Both the restaurant and lounge have received complete makeovers, tuning up the decor and food and drink offerings.

The new design, by Blackdog Studio, is intended to create a more modern look, while executive chef Jason Starnes—who joined the Sun Dial in May 2012—has updated his menus to focus on local and seasonal ingredients. Offerings now include a goat cheese soufflé with lobster, white wine, garlic, micro greens, and lobster reduction; and citrus-cured salmon with pickled breakfast radishes, micro herbs, confit orange, dill yogurt, and candied mustard seed. Below he shares his inspirations.

How did you decide on your new approach to the menu?
The food is contemporary American with strong Southern influences. I was born and raised in the South and have used that as inspiration from top to bottom. I also like to call my food ‘comfort eclectic.’ It’s ingredients people are comfortable with, served in ways they might not have thought of. It’s all about playing with the food and having a good time.

I use as many local farms as I can. These farmers put as much passion into what they grow as we put into the cooking aspect. It’s important for more than just the trend aspect.

Which new menu items are you most excited about?
There’s a watermelon salad—I use the word ‘salad’ liberally. We compress the watermelon in vacuum bag under high pressure to push the oxygen cells. When we reintroduce air, the cells suck up all of the flavor around them. We pair heirloom tomatoes with the watermelon because it’s very clean and very fresh but an unexpected pairing. We serve it classic caprese style using burrata instead of traditional mozzarella. Then we add pickled red onions and fresh radish, and instead of classic balsamic we use vincotto and reduce it like you would with a balsamic. You still get the acidity and the little bit of sweetness but it’s a little different. We use lemon balm instead of basil oil to make a pesto but we don’t use any cheese—just the herb and olive oil. It’s got beautiful, bright colors that all come together with flavors much more dramatic than what they would be [with ingredients from a] grocery store.

Sounds delicious. What else?
We take a classic approach to some items like the pork pâté. We use Southeast Family Farms’ pork and grind it with chicken livers for a French country pate with cognac and pistachios mixed in to refine it. We mix truffle-infused olive oil with whole grain mustard and add some grilled bread and pickled vegetables to play on the classic profile.

Let’s talk about the decor. Tell me about the new look.
The restaurant has been taken down to the structure. At 723 feet in air you don’t want to change anything structural. It’s taken on the look of a refined mid-century modern [building] with all of the clean lines. It’s just elegant. It accentuates the restaurant but doesn’t take away from the view. It’s a complete package now.

We like to say we put a fresh spin on dining. We still look out over the entire city with one of the best views of the city but have taken the colors to carry through for the next ten to fifteen years—earthy colors in the gray palette. There are light gray walls, patterned carpet, old saddle-style leather chairs, and crystal chandeliers. It’s opened the space up to feel lighter and airier. The seventy-third level lounge stays lounge-y with low cocktail tables and comfortable chairs.

What’s new on the lounge and cocktail menus?
We kept it as lounge cuisine but refined it to be more contemporary. You can still come in and have a nice craft beer and some buffalo wings, but we make the hot sauce from fresh chilies in house. There are small plates, pastas, salads, sandwiches, with a heavy focus on the snack aspect. There’s a local cheese board and nuts roasted in chilies and wine. We have local wines, beers, and spirits. We’re getting vodka and gin from a distillery in Dawsonville, and we’ve jumped on the trend of using moonshine in cocktails.

And for dessert?
Our pastry chef [Khoi V. Nguyen] has been with the restaurant for thirty-five years. He’s making a chocolate pâté rolled in crushed pistachios. He smokes the chocolate and pairs it with a shortbread cookie and candied bacon to play on the salty and sweet. There’s also a chocolate cremeux—a bold custard paired with Marcona almonds and coconut ice cream to give the impression of an old school candy bar.

Anything else we should know?
One of my goals was to bring back the old school level of service. Fine dining used to be defined by table service where your maître d' would flambée your bananas foster. I wanted to take that idea and put a 2013 spin on it. If we have a menu for two people, it brings them more together. So we have a 56-ounce prime rib on the bone and they can choose their side items to customize experience. The server takes the beautiful piece of meat and carves it tableside. We serve whole roasted chicken and fish same way. We pour soup tableside, too. We’re trying to build a total experience.