Welcome to our newest feature, The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tables.
Rob Ochotnicky. [Photo: Justin Phillips/4squarephotos]
Step foot into chef/owner Linton Hopkins' Restaurant Eugene and you'll get the vibe immediately. Calm, refined hospitality. Hopkins cares deeply about presenting the pride of the South at its best, and that goes for his award-winning farm-to-table cuisine as well as his carefully selected staff. General Manager Rob Ochotnicky couldn't exemplify that strive for perfection more—with a welcome smile and aim to please, step into RE and know you're in good hands.
What's your background? Where have you worked in Atlanta?
I spent some time at some smaller restaurants in Buckhead. From there, was recruited to the Here To Serve Restaurant Group. Then I helped Chef Paul Albrecht open Paul's. After a brief stint at the Palm, I found my home at Restaurant Eugene.
So how long have you been working at Restaurant Eugene?
I started as a server at Restaurant Eugene a little over two years ago. I moved into management as Assistant Maitre d' seven months into my tenure, spent some time as the Guest Services and Special Events Coordinator, and took the reigns as General Manager in September. From the moment I walked into the doors of the restaurant, I could sense that it was a special place. After my first orientation meeting with Chef Hopkins, when he asked me if I was "all in," I knew I was.
What brought you to Restaurant Eugene?
When my (then future) wife and I decided that Atlanta would continue to be our home, I wanted to shift my focus back to true fine dining. Jenny and I came to eat at Restaurant Eugene to check it out. Immediately upon arrival, we knew it was a very special place. We had a dining experience like we'd never had before—the food, the service, the ambiance—everything was operating at the highest possible level. My wife said to me "you have to work here." I am so proud to work at Restaurant Eugene, with such an extraordinary team, especially Chef Linton and his wife Gina Hopkins. Their vision for dining and cuisine in Atlanta is long-term and outstanding. I'm thrilled to be a part of it.
There isn't a bad table in the house. The booths are elegant, of course, but I really love this little table in the Orchid Room right by the bar—table 7. You can watch the action of the bar, but you still feel the ambiance of the Orchid Room. It's where I love to sit with my wife Jenny.
What's your favorite thing on the menu?
This is a difficult question. It's a tie. I really enjoy the Kumamoto oysters with radish granita. These oysters are so incredibly clean and salinic. The fresh peppery finish of the radish granita is a perfect balance. I also love the duck breast; the preparation of the duck is outstanding. The meat is tender and the skin nice and crispy. It's heavenly.
It's 8 p.m. Saturday, can you walk in and get a table? If not, what's the wait?
At 8 p.m. on Saturday, the most immediate seat for a walk-in will be the bar. We serve the full menu at the bar and it's a lovely place to dine. If you want to walk in, walk in on a Tuesday. If it has to be Saturday, come earlier (like before 6 p.m.), or late (like after 9 p.m.). Otherwise, your wait will be forty-five minutes to an hour.
Do people ever try to slip you cash or anything for tables? Has it happened to you—ever—not necessarily at Restaurant Eugene?
Never happened to me. We do have some guests, however, with standing table requests who will compensate the staff for their accommodation.
Do you have regulars, and what are they like?
We have many regulars. They are all a vital part of our community. Some are very outgoing and enthusiastic; some are more reserved. I think all of our regulars dine with us because we consistently provide the finest food, beverage, and service in the city; and are constantly striving to provide genuine hospitality to our guests. Whatever the reason, whoever the person, however frequent the visit, we greatly appreciate every guest that comes through our door and treat them all with the utmost respect and gratitude.
Do you get a lot of celebrities coming here at all? Anyone in particular that you remember?
We do. It's not something we discuss.
What happens if the restaurant is packed and a VIP comes in?
We ask if they have a reservation. As with every guest, we'll do our best to accommodate their needs.
What's the strangest request you've ever received from a customer?
Not the strangest, perhaps, but the most heartwarming: One of our guests has recently been diagnosed with an illness. Part of his treatment will permanently and drastically alter the way he digests food. Before his surgery, he is planning to dine with us. He has requested a special dish of Chef Hopkins' which he's enjoyed before. We are honored by the request and very much looking forward to taking care of this guest. These are the moments—like when someone gets engaged or celebrates a special occasion at the restaurant—that we realize we are more than just a place people come to eat. We are part of the culture and fabric of the city and we sometimes play a significant supporting role in people's lives.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
Diplomacy and optimism.
· Restaurant Eugene [Official Site]