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New decor includes cool gray and cream hinting at Russia’s icy winters.

A Russian Reset

by Katie Kelly Bell | Photography by Greg Dupree | The Atlantan magazine | April 22, 2014

Nikolai’s Roof, the 30th floor fine dining restaurant high atop the Hilton Atlanta Downtown for 38 years, once celebrated pomp and circumstance with delight. For each course, servers clad in white gloves and courtly Russian garb would descend upon your table, massive silver-domed plates in hand, and open them with a simultaneous “ta da” flourish. It was as much theater as it was exquisite epicureanism. But times change and, too often, tradition becomes tragically uncool. Nikolai’s suffered the whims of a new, more casual dining culture in Atlanta and the ownership deemed it time for a restaurant revamp.

Enter the designers with a contemporary look and feel, reimagined dishes, updated color palette and new uniforms. Today, after a nearly $1 million investment, Nikolai’s Roof is all about understated elegance, muted decor and subtle service—so much so that I don’t see a glimpse of the pomp of yore when I arrive with my husband for a date night. Hotel Director of Food and Beverage Kevin O’Leary confirms that the restaurant is indeed “moving away from being known as only a fine dining, special-occasion destination to welcome a more relaxed vibe into the menu, lounge and dining room.” It’s worth noting that, as a result of this new direction, the restaurant lowered prices by 15 percent; they deserve credit for putting their money where their mouth is.

The new digs are awash in seafoam green, cream and shades of gray—a nod to snowy Russian winters. Cracked glass and mirrored tile accents rim the 7,500-square-foot space. The warm walnut wood tables replaced the white tablecloths, and sparkling glass ribbon chandeliers dot the room. It feels fresh and new; however, streaked floor-to-ceiling windows rather dampen the whole effect. This is a destination that has “roof” in its name; after a makeover they should take the time to make the view sparkle.

That being said, the young chef de cuisine, Stephanie Alderete, takes on a daunting service of three-, four- and six-course tasting menus (as well as a la carte) with dishes such as braised frog legs, grilled octopus and wild boar tenderloin. Such an expansive menu makes up for some of the initial culture shock over the much-changed Nikolai’s. The primary influences are now American and French, with a few nods to Russia, such as the fabulously unctuous black trumpet mushroom piroshki and braised pork cheek. The pastry on the piroshki is flaky and slightly sweet, a brilliant contrast to the earthy umami of the mushroom. The pork cheek is tender and lovely, but still plays second fiddle to the delightful puff. They kept the caviar service and tasty selection of infused vodkas; peach is ambrosial.

Simple and direct fare does best in chef Alderete’s hands. We loved her perfectly seared filet of loup de mer, fresh and exquisite, served with a supporting cast of vibrant vegetables. The Jerusalem artichoke veloute with crispy duck and pork rillette is a silky palate pleaser with its sultry combination of salt and savory.

Overall, the menu delivers solid fare with some exotic edges. As a finale, we order the Grand Marnier souffle with almond creme fraiche. It arrives as a gorgeous bouffant of pastry—pillowy and magnificent—reminding me of the fabulous silver-domed plates from the old days. I indulge in a moment of nostalgia, get over myself and eat the souffle; it is darn tasty. I decide change can indeed be good.

Nikolai’s Roof
255 Courtland St. NE, 404.221.6362
Hours: Tue.-Sat., 5:30-9:30pm; Closed Mon. and Sun.

Who Goes
Hotel guests, couples looking for a romantic view, business types, expats

You Must Order
Mushroom piroshki, loup de mer, roasted lamb chops

Where to Sit
At any one of the window seats, but the seats on the north side of the dining room enjoy a prettier view of the city

What to Drink
Any of the freshly infused Russian vodkas