Friday, April 2, 2010

Top Chef Restaurant Experience - Woodfire Grill

The lovely and talented Jordan Baker shares her experience dining at Kevin Gillespie's Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. Yum!

When I realized I'd be going to a wedding in Atlanta in late March, the first thing I did was check the Braves schedule to see if they'd be back in town from Spring Training yet, and I could check another ballpark off my lifetime list.

Once I got over the disappointment at the fact that alas, it was not to be, the second thing I did was to e-mail the other people I knew who'd be going, and ask something along the lines of "who wants to watch me eat a great deal of food shortly before I try to strap myself into a vintage silk-chiffon cocktail dress?"

The reaction to that was more positive than you might expect. And so the third thing I did was to see if and when I could get a reservation at Woodfire Grill.

That's right, penguins. I ate at the home of the Mushroom Kingdom's own burly woodchopping tree dweller, Kevin.

I was super excited to eat at Kevin's restaurant because pork is both of our jams (which just makes me want to sing "oh hot damn, pork is our jam. . ." but I'll spare you), and because despite being apparently the only person in America who saw through the "Oh-em-GEE, Michael is TEH EVUL" nonsense and was super glad that he won, I liked Kevin. I liked his ideas about food -- all food, not just pork -- and I liked the way his dishes looked and sounded.

And after all the money I've thrown Spike's way, I like having the opportunity to support Cheftestants I didn't spend several months calling a variety of obscene and gynecologically oriented nicknames.

So we ate there on Thursday night, but the actual story of eating there starts on Wednesday morning. I was sitting in my office, and my cell phone rang. It was Woodfire Grill, confirming my reservation. "And does your party have any food restrictions?" the woman on the other end of the phone asked.

I blinked. "Yes," I said. "I'm highly allergic to beets."



"Hm," she said. "I'm glad you told us that, because there are definitely beets on our menu."

I was a little perturbed, because as far as I knew, we hadn't signed on for any sort of preset menu or anything. But I shook it off, and went about my day.

We got to the restaurant about ten minutes before our reservation, despite the utter cluelessness of our cabbie (who not only didn't know where the restaurant was, but drove right past it despite my yelling " back there! It's back there!!!"), and were seated in a charming, sunlit lounge area to enjoy a beverage while we waited.

After a bit, we were led into the main dining room. Our table was in the same section of the restaurant as the huge woodfire grill, and I had a great view of both the action there and the doors to the main kitchen.

So after we'd settled in, the waiter asked "I understand we have a beet allergy this evening?" I raised my hand, and he pointed out all the dishes on the menu that involved beets, and assured me that if we opted for the 5 course tasting menu, they could adjust it to accommodate my need for beet-less-ness. "And our featured amuse bouche currently includes beets, but the chef has an alternative option designed for you."

After much conferring, we decided against the tasting menu, and placed our orders. Shortly thereafter, we received our amuses: the aforementioned Beet Two Ways and my super special just for me so they wouldn't have to call the EMT's one, which involved White Grapefruit and Avocado.

White grapefruit and avocado are two of my favorite things, and the amuse was perfect -- a bright, refreshing little awakening in the mouth. My companion ate his beets quickly so I wouldn't get psychosomatic anaphylaxis just from having them near me, and assured me they were delightful.

For our first courses, my companion had the Smoked Halibut Chowder with Fingerling Potatoes, Dried Corn, and Oregano. The taste I had was really delicious -- and I'm not much of a halibut fan -- great smoky flavor with hints of corn and no aggressive fishy taste.

I ordered the Local Baby Mixed Lettuce Salad with Black Pepper Strawberry Vinaigrette, Feta Cheese, and Berton's Bacon. And when it came out, I broke one of my own commandments: thou shalt not be that douche who takes pictures of all the courses at a nice restaurant.

I just couldn't resist the beautiful strip of bacon draped seductively over the top of all those delicious greens.

And then the picture didn't even capture the beauty of the salad, because I zoomed too quickly. And because the food gods were punishing me for being that douche.

(You should read this post at Alinea at Home, by the way, so you can understand why I'm having even more of a crise de conscience than I normally would about doing something so gauche).

Anyway. The salad, however ineptly photographed, was delicious. But -- as I'm so fond of saying about things on various reality shows -- it's great, but it's not original. In retrospect, I kind of regret ordering something so standard when I could've gone for a more adventurous/unusual.

Since it's hard to get the douche cat back in the bag once he's out, I then continued subtly taking one picture of each dish. Because I was trying to be unobtrusive about my douchiness, I didn't take a whole lot of time in set up, so some of the dishes -- particularly the ones I ate -- are a bit on the blurry side.

Like, for example, my second course, the Pan Roasted Diver Scallop on Tarragon Glazed Baby Carrots with Arugula Broccoli Puree and Baby Radish Brown Butter.

I'm going to say "YUM!!!" and you should imagine it echoing serenely across the hills like the "Yum!" in the Red Robin commercials. SO GOOD. The scallop had an absolutely beautiful texture, and I can't even begin to describe the arugula broccoli puree. It was just a magnificently smooth, rich taste that complimented the scallop and carrots beautifully.

In fact, I'd be hard pressed to imagine anything better. . . if I hadn't had a bite of it with the same course. My companion had the wisdom to order the Pan Seared Artisan Foie Gras with Spiced Strawberry Syrup, Roasted Strawberries, White Chocolate, Avocado, and Pecan Sandies.

A. MA. ZING. The contrast between the crisp cookie and the smooth foie was just incredible, and the flavors. . .!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. I just can't even begin. I want foie with strawberries every day of the week. I don't care how fat I get, or how many geese or migrant farmers working in the strawberry fields have to suffer.

(It's also when I mostly stopped feeling bad about the whole picture taking issue for awhile. My kitchen is green and red, and I kind of want to blow up that foie picture and frame it and hang it on my wall. At the same time, though, I realized that if word got back to the kitchen that some chick who was allergic to beets was taking pictures and had transcribed her party's order into a moleskine notebook, I was kind of putting a target on my back. There are probably some Cheftestants out there who would put two and two together on that one, and serve me a dish of ground beets with a side of sulfa drugs)

Because one of the things Kevin and I share is pork being our jam (it keeps us partyin' to the a.m.), for my third course I ordered the Wood Grilled Berkshire Pork Loin, Melted Leeks, Fennel Pollen, Roasted Local Baby Corn, Toasted Almonds, and Fig Balsamic. 

Otherwise known as the dish that truly proved that pork is, in fact, Kevin's jam. And mine. The meat was beautifully done, and the leeks were insanely delicious. The baby corn was incredibly tender. We both agreed that this was the winner of the main courses, and a close second to the foie in the whole evening.

Also delicious, though, was my companion's Wood Grilled Painted Hills Beef Striploin with Creamed Brussels Sprouts, Braised California Morels, and Horseradish Mustard Beurre Fondue.

The beef was delicious, but the creamed Brussels sprouts were just fucking amazing. In the last year, I've learned to like a bunch of foods my former-picky-child-self used to turn her nose up at, and Brussels sprouts are one of them. And creamed Brussels sprouts can't possibly be Rocket Surgery, and they were so good that I'm now determined to figure out how to make them myself.

Stuffed almost to the gills, we still couldn't pass up the dessert menu. Because we're piggies. Horrible, horrible, greedy little piggies. And, in my case, because one of the options was a Lemon Meringue Tart with Vanilla Grapefruit Confit, Basil Syrup and Lemon Chip.

I love lemons, and I love basil, and I love, LOVE, LOVE white grapefruit (mostly because I grew up with two trees full of 'em in my back yard, and consider them the legit grapefruit. I'm just not as cool with their weird pinky brethren). And this was delicious -- the filling in the tart was crisp and delicious, and the pastry was flaky perfection. And dragging the grapefruit segments through the basil syrup was another experience I'd like to try and recreate for myself. So good.

My companion opted for a cheese course called Le Petit Dejeuner which was three cheeses served with Puree of Navel Oranges and Roasted Pistachios.

It's so far away. . . .Anyway, I didn't get a sample of it, because I've learned better than to come between this gentleman and his cheeses (and he knows the same is true of me), but I'm told it was exquisite.

All in all, it was a tremendous visit. But in the interest of fairness, I do have to point out a couple of small negatives: first, while being in the room with the grill was fascinating to watch, it did start to irritate the contact-wearing-eyes and my companion's asthma-having-lungs after a bit. So in addition to asking about food restrictions -- which I totally appreciated -- maybe asking about environmental allergies would also be a good step. It can't be too much harder to put people with lung problems away from the smoke than it is to keep beets away from me.

And second: the service was generally great. But our waiter -- while certainly attentive and eager to please -- was unctuous to the point that it became creepy. If you imagine the palace eunuch in a 1960's movie set in ancient Rome, that was him. And one of the female servers touched my boob in that accidentally-on-purpose way after putting my pork down.

So to sum it up: Kevin, you pig-loving, tree-dwelling bastard, it was outstanding. Sorry for being that douche who took pictures of everything. And thank you for making sure I wasn't served anything that could kill me.

1 comment:

JordanBaker said...

Aw, I enjoy being lovely and talented.