Open for more than 35 years, Nikolai’s Roof atop the Hilton Atlanta tends to fly under the foodie radar—though it is the only existing local restaurant to be awarded the AAA Four Diamond rating 24 years in a row (and those views can still wow). But this classic French/Russian restaurant is trying something new: It recently promoted 27-year-old Stephanie Alderete to executive chef, replacing Olivier De Busschere. Alderete worked under Busschere for two years and says she learned a lot from him, but she’s changing things up, working to infuse new life into Nikolai’s and its menu.
For starters, Alderete is simplifying presentations to focus more on flavor. Unlike the old Nikolai’s, which brought in fish from Europe, Alderete uses local and seasonal ingredients with modern and classic French techniques.
“I cook with less ingredients,” she says. “Before, the food was more focused on garnishes and plating, rather than taste. To me, taste is everything.”
Alderete is keeping longstanding menu items like the herb-crusted lamb but adding her own spin. For example, the lamb used to be served with haricots verts and potato gratin; now, it comes with goat cheese polenta and tomato and squash ragu.
She’s added a chilled chicken pate with port, black pepper gelee, and pickled vegetables to the menu. Pork belly with crispy skin, pine nut and celery root compote, and Brussels sprout leaves is another new entree.
In addition to the menu changes, Nikolai’s has some renovations in the works, likely coming later this year. Alderete says the restaurant will be getting a more modern look with the removal of chandeliers, carpet and more.
“We’re trying to get away from the special occasion-only reputation and make it not so stuffy,” she says. “We’re growing with the times!”