Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill Lackluster without Chef Gillespie

I had fond memories of my June 2011 trip to Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill restaurant, and was very excited to return. The last time I wrote about Woodfire grill, Chef Kevin Gillespie (of Top Chef fame) was at the helm.  I wrote, “I had no idea what a treat I’d be in for” when summarizing the visit. I described the staff as exceptional and called the service superb.  I noted that “it was a little noisy inside, but overall a great atmosphere and well designed.”

Woodfire Grill Ext

I returned this past weekend to celebrate a significant anniversary for my parents. Recalling my previous visit, I had high expectations for this experience.  I made reservations online and a few days before someone from the restaurant called to confirm the reservation.  He asked about food allergies, which I thought was a great personal touch and asked about special celebrations.  I also indicated a preference for a table vs. booth.

Like the last visit, the weather was ominous and we dashed in through heavy rain drops.  We were promptly greeted and escorted to our table.  The restaurant had ensured that our request for a table, which started the night off an a good note.

Water was poured in our glasses pretty promptly after being seated, and menus were dropped off with a brief explanation about the seasonal drinks. We immediately noticed that the restaurant had printed a happy anniversary message on the menu, but got the number of years wrong. it was still a nice touch.

One person in our party had on white and requested a white napkin.  After reminding the waiter, for the third time, that we were still waiting for a white napkin he informed us that they had no white linen napkins, but he could bring some heavy white paper napkins. Certainly not what you’d expect from a top restaurant, but we accepted the offer.  The white napkins never arrived but luckily another person in the party went to the restroom and brought back some, you guessed it, white paper towels.

It took a while before anyone returned to take drink orders and once the waiter did return to take the orders, the time it took to get the drinks was almost as long.  During this time you’d have expected that someone would have stopped by the table to explain the menu, ask if we had questions, etc…but that never happened.  Our drinks were delivered and a few minutes after, some butter biscuits and honey butter were dropped off. I found the biscuits to be a bit chewy, though others seemed to enjoy them – or maybe everyone was just starving.

After another short wait the waiter returned to take our order. He asked if there were any food allergies – I told him about the tomato allergy. Apparently this tidbit didn’t get passed along like the request for a a table vs. booth had. Why ask ahead of time if anyone has an allergy if you’re not going to do anything with the information?  As we ordered, the waiter had to check his notes to see what was in each dish to identify if the dish contained any tomato, and he finished by saying, “I’ll confirm there’s no tomato with the chef before placing the orders.”

wfg foi gras

The meal started with an amuse-bouche, I can’t comment on the amuse-bouche that the group had, as it had tomato in it, but the bing-cherry amuse-bouche I had was just okay.

We ordered several appetizers to share among the group and I had a Thai Beef Salad with shaved dry aged prime beef, cucumber, basil, 63 degree egg yolk, sesame and flax seed. The group was very underwhelmed with the appetizers overall.  They were just average and not memorable.   The Thai Beef Salad resembled nothing I’ve ever had in Thailand. While the beef, which was raw, was tender and had good flavor, the rest of the “salad” left a lot to be desired.

The giant ravioli with house made ricotta, egg yolk, Swiss chard, chantrelle broth and poppy seed lemon burre monte was also a bit underwhelming. The Swiss chard overwhelmed the dish.

The service during the meal was almost non-existent. We had to call over other wait staff to request assistance from our waiter multiple times during the meal. During the three-hour meal drink re-fills were only offered 1 time.

When the main course was delivered almost everyone in the group was very pleasantly surprised. We had very low expectations based upon the appetizer course.  The main course made up for many of the appetizer’s short-comings.

I ordered the roasted white oak pastures chicken breast with brown chicken farrotto, smoked beets, roasted carrots, fennel, blackberry and basil.  The beets were the best part of the dish, closely followed by the chicken. The flavors were rich and bold.

Unfortunately, one member of the group ordered a wood grilled c.a.b steak done medium and it arrived at the table essentially raw.  Our waiter never came to check on us after the food was delivered, so we had to flag down another server to request the steak be cooked more.   By the time the steak was re-delivered, the rest of the group had essentially finished their meals.

The steak, which was simply re-cooked and plated on the original plate (not something you expect from a fine-dining restaurant), was delivered by someone who looked like she may have been a hostess. Our waiter never came over to check on anything.

After sitting for a while with dirty plates in front of us, someone finally came over and started clearing the table.  It took a bit of time for our waiter to finally show up and ask about dessert and coffee.  We ordered two desserts to share around the table – a fruit cobbler that ended up being delicious and a flourless chocolate cake that was very disappointing – everyone in the group agreed on that.

When we finished dessert it seemed to take an exceptionally long time to get a check and when it finally arrived at the table I instantly handed my credit card to the waiter – I didn’t want to wait for him again. It took our server a very long time to return – we later learned that the delay was a result of lack of power to the credit card machine caused by the bad weather.  Everyone would have understood had someone, anyone, simply come over to inform us about issue and delay.  If you’re going to spend between $75-100 per person you expect much better service than what we received at Woodfire grill.

So what changed?

In March of 2013 chef Tyler Williams joined Woodfire Grill after the departure of Chef Kevin Gillespie (of Top Chef fame).

In he summer of 2010, Tyler Williams ventured to Atlanta to become sous chef at Anne Quatrano’s Bacchanalia. Recognizing his talent, Quatrano soon promoted him to executive chef at Abattoir. During his time at Abattoir, he was named “Chef of the Year” by Eater Atlanta and was recognized as a 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Chef. His next step was Woodfire Grill.

The hit-or-miss meal was framed by terrible service which ultimately left a very bad impression on me and is ultimately what I remember about the experience.  I would not recommend Woodfire Grill.

2 Comments on "Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill Lackluster without Chef Gillespie"

  1. I’m not surprised by your experience. Most Atlanta restaurants have a shelf life of two years before it all goes terribly wrong. I’ve had better service and experience at Waffle House compared to some of the fine dining places in ATL.

  2. @Celine, it’s too bad they don’t last longer.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.