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Sadly the same

View from Nikolai's Roof is better than the food


A mound of exquisite, velvety-red roses releases its subtle perfume. Tinker-toy chandeliers twinkle above. Even Atlanta's parking garages look like a carpet of stars from the windows high above the city streets. Nikolai's Roof is a jewel-box of a setting.

But for the reader who told me he had heard from a friend that the food here had risen from the dead and now was sensational, I have bad news: It is average, at best. And when the $73 per person prix-fixe tab is considered, the quality of the experience suffers even more. Sadly, Nikolai's Roof remains yet another example of the hotel rooftop restaurant syndrome: The better the view, the worse the food.

Thank heavens for vodka and caviar! The latter comes at an $80 surcharge -- since the server will not bother to tell you that, I will -- but it is one of the few things here that is worth it. Vodkas are flavored in-house, which results in such delicious and highly aromatic versions as peppercorn and lime.

There is no printed menu. Your server will offer to you, with varying degrees of knowledge and enthusiasm, three choices for each course, from appetizers to dessert. Happily, a cheese course is one of the six courses.

Curiously, on the night of our visit, the most flavorful course turned out to be the chef's amusés, a pair of pirozhki, one stuffed with shrimp, another stuffed with chicken.

Next came a satiny rabbit foie gras and a plate of smoked salmon and smoked scallop that were both heavier and duller (as in too thickly sliced and overcooked) than they should have been.

Keep in mind that dishes change constantly, so what is offered to you may bear no resemblance to what was offered to us. Even so, I think it is odd that outside of the pirozhki, there was no traditional Russian specialty in sight. That could be good or bad news, depending on your point of view.

What is certainly bad news is that two New York strip steaks, ordered rare and medium rare, both came medium well done. My guest sent his back. I elected not to bother, having determined from the first bite that the pedestrian piece of meat before me had no flavor whatsoever. Squab and venison fared better. Did the kitchen simply decide to cook all four main dishes for exactly the same amount of time without regard to the differences in the meat?

I estimate the portions of the main dishes at 3 or 4 ounces. I am of two minds about this. One is that the amount is just right. With small bites, six courses is manageable; no one likes to feel stuffed to the gills. But I confess that even though I prefer small portions, my first thought when I saw the strip steak was that it was a ripoff. It looked like a lamb rib chop.

As to the service, for the most part, the staff is eager to please. But they could be more polished and much more conversant about the food. The sommelier was not much help when he showed up, which was not often. As few tables as there are on the premises, one would think he would be more of a presence. Unfortunately, no.

Although everyone was warm, and a few of the staff were downright cheery, there was no hint of the devotion to food and to service that is the hallmark of a truly fine restaurant. Why should there be, when the food is this dreary?

Nikolai's Roof, atop the Hilton Hotel downtown, 255 Courtland St. (between Baker and Harris streets). 404-874-6505. Monday-Saturday, 6-9 p.m. Very expensive; prix fixe, $73 per person for six courses. Credit cards. Dress: jacket and tie. Ambiance: sparkly. Smoke-free environment. Reservations required. Wheelchair accessible. The hotel garage's valet people don't seem to know this, but the restaurant does validate parking.

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