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.
Nick Alicea. [Photo: Justin Phillips/4squarephotos]
The mood at BLT Steak Atlanta is one of an elegant excess that comes from a masterful chef, Cyrille Holota, and a true fine dining staff, led by General Manager Nick Alicea. A dependable special-occasion restaurant is a rarity, to be sure. But the team at BLT Steak Atlanta aims to prove daily that they're up to the challenge. Both Holota and Alicea are classically-trained French chefs whose talents result in a refined dining experience for BLT's guests, who range from businessmen and women to romantics to celebs rocking the W.
What's your background? Where have you worked in Atlanta?
I am a native New Yorker and a classically-trained French chef who has been in the industry for 20 years. I decided to make the move from the back of the house to the front about seven years ago, seeking a career challenge. Having traveled the world for the last 20 years studying in places such as Denmark, Sweden, France, Miami, Dallas, and New York, I have worked with both InterContinental Hotels Group as an assistant food and beverage director, as well as with the Dolce Group, where I was the general manager of several properties.
So how long have you been working at BLT Steak Atlanta?
I've been with BLT Steak for just under a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.
What brought you to BLT Steak Atlanta?
I was seeking a company that was eager to expand, even with today's tough economy. Atlanta is a young, ever-evolving food city, and BLT Steak has a great reputation. Also, BLT Steak is a NY-based restaurant group, which appealed to me because of my background.
What's your favorite table in the restaurant?
I have several favorite tables. For a large group, our private dining room is the place to be. If it's a romantic dinner, table 64 has a lovely view. For a business meeting, table 45 is great because it is tucked away from high traffic areas.
What's your favorite thing on the menu?
I am a big fan of our daily blackboard. Chef Cyrille Holota, formerly at the AAA Four Diamond restaurant Joël, creates intriguing dishes on a daily basis. His $60 three-course menu is a fantastic choice.
It's 8 p.m. Saturday, can you walk in and get a table? If not, what's the wait?
Being located downtown and driven by convention business, there is no rhyme or reason to our reservations here. The best bet is to make a reservation ahead of time, but we can always sneak a table or two in on a Saturday night.
Do people ever try to slip you cash or anything for tables? Has it happened to you—ever—not necessarily at BLT Steak Atlanta?
This has happened to me from time to time throughout my career, but I have never personally accepted it.
Do you have regulars, and what are they like?
We have many regulars, from business diners on a daily basis, to celebrities and athletes throughout the year. All of our regulars have individual requests and needs; the fact that we have regulars proves that we are doing something right.
Do you get a lot of celebrities coming here at all? Anyone in particular that you remember?
Being located on the entry level of a W Hotel, we serve many celebrities, athletes, and artists that come through the restaurant. I could mention names, but I won't—stop in and see for yourself!
What happens if the restaurant is packed and a VIP comes in?
I always save a few tables for my VIPs. All VIPs have my personal cell phone number, and I am at their disposal 24 hours a day. When they arrive, I do my best to seat them immediately.
What's the strangest request you've ever received from a customer?
A while back, a woman was highly allergic to paprika. It was not uncommon at the time for people with allergies to pre-print a special card with their specific dining needs, but this is one that I will never forget. It read as such: "My name is ___. I am deathly allergic to paprika. If there is any even remotely on the utensils or plates, I can become sick and possibly die. If this is to happen, I can assure you that I will come back from my grave and haunt you for eternity." Needless to say, it was a paprika-free day for all of us.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
My team, first and foremost, and my ability to adapt and change from moment to moment to ensure a smooth, seamless operation.
For more Gatekeepers published today from across the Eater Universe, head over to Eater National.