West & Mill Bistro Bar – Atlanta, GA

20140228-192928.jpgHeading to a show at the Fox, I went to opentable to look for someplace that was both nearby and new.  When a 1,000 point spot showed up at West & Mill, I checked the reviews and menu and clicked on the 6:00 slot.  (A 1,000 point reservation generally means one of two things:  1) It’s going to be expensive; or 2) they really need to drum up some business.)  We arrived, drove to the rooftop parking and then proceeded to wander around for a bit before finding the restaurant.  It was right by where we had driven in, underneath 5 Seasons Brewing Company.  

Formerly opened as  Swit Bakery & Cafe (as a bakery-cafe), it was re-imagined as a bistro-bar and re-opened / re-branded last fall.  It is designed like most every other restaurant that opened last year – neutral colors, high ceilings and lots of wood.  I did like the two pair of giant doors that were used as room dividers.  20140228-193649.jpgWe were seated and then quickly ignored, while they loudly rearranged the other end of the restaurant, apparently preparing for a party later in the evening (there were gold balloons tied to the chairs, hence the party thought). In general, service was slow for a place where we were the only customers there for the first forty minutes.  There was a positive – at least it wasn’t noisy.  With those  high ceilings, I imagine it can be loud, if it ever fills up.  Within ten minutes of sitting, we had ordered our starters.20140228-194001.jpgTwo points to be raised from the photos above, note the chairs and the silverware.  The chairs were not terribly comfortable and led you to a natural reclining position.  In fact, according to my date, you “want to cross your legs “like a man”, smoke a cigar and drink a glass of port”.  And I have, fundamentally, an issue with the concept that I’m experiencing fine dining when I walk in and find the silverware, wrapped in a napkin, sealed with paper, already sitting on every table.  On to the food.  We started with two appetizers20140228-194258.jpgthe hangar steak, with chimichurri sauce and bacon pierogies.  For as long as we waited for food (and I can’t believe it was because the kitchen was overly busy), I was surprised that only one starter came out hot (the pierogies).  It was as if they finished one and waited for the other.  I did enjoy the little bacon and potato filled dumplings, although they were kind of doughy.  But, as they were clearing the table, the server asked me if I wanted to keep my fork.  I had left it on my appetizer plate, expecting they’d deliver another.  I would have thought it obvious that I preferred not to keep it – is a clean fork too much to ask for?

Jo ordered the shrimp and polenta, with ham gravy and a mixed green salad,20140228-194623.jpgwhich was, inexiplacably, served together on the same flat plate.  And the polenta was thin – like cream of wheat.  So thin that you couldn’t eat it with a fork – it ran through the tines.  About a quarter of the way through the meal, the manager came around and asked how things were.  We questioned the polenta’s thickness, so he went and asked the chef.  When he returned, he said it was polenta, just finely ground.  Que sera, sera.  But when she asked him for a spoon (so she could actually eat her meal), he said “I’ve been asked that before.”  Seriously?  Of course you have – you’re serving runny polenta on a flat plate.  Why wasn’t there a spoon without having to ask for it? 

And, while I’m discussing preparation, why were the tails left on the shrimp?  This wasn’t peel and eat, they were covered in the ham gravy.  Sauce covered shrimp that you have to prepare to be eaten, yourself, with the only napkin being a 1-ply paper napkin (that was wrapped around your silverware) are a challenge.

I had the crispy half chicken with fingerling potatoes, garlic spinach and a chicken jus.20140301-111846.jpgIt was served, swimming in the jus, so much so that I was afraid I’d splash liquid every time I used my knife.  And for half of a chicken, it was small.

In general:

  • Ambiance and accoutrements were lacking:
  • The service was slow:
  • We saw twenty or thirty people walk by the restaurant to go eat the brew pub upstairs; and
  • The presentation left much to be desired; and

But here’s the thing, the food, itself, was excellent.  The skin on the crispy chicken was crunchy and delicious.  The chicken itself was moist and flavorful.  The shrimp and polenta was very good and the ham gravy really brought out the taste of the shrimp.  But good food, alone, is not enough to make a restaurant work in a town with so many restaurants that do everything right.

I’m generally willing to forgive when a restaurant falls short on one of the components of a good meal (ambiance, service, food quality and food preparation).  But West & Mill only hit on one of those.  I hope they can stay open long enough to work out the issues, because the food is really good.  But, in my opinion, losing the walk by traffic to their neighbors, and having so many other options that do so much right so close (being able to walk across the street to Bocado, or hit a golf ball with an iron to the Optimist or Miller Union), they need to fix these issues sooner, rather than later.

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