[FOOD] The Atlanta Top Chef Tour

Last weekend, my wife Christy and I were able to take some time away from the 3 year old that consumes most of our time and take a weekend for ourselves. We were set to attend a concert by Maxwell but that ended up getting canceled. As a result, we needed a plan.

I came up with the idea of hitting up two of Atlanta’s fresh new restaurants, The Spence and Woodfire Grill. The Spence was recently opened up by Richard Blais (he of the Top Chef Masters win), and Woodfire Grill was recently re-opened with Kevin Gillespie as Executive Chef (again, runner-up in one of the many Top Chef seasons). Both these bright young chefs are some of the best in the country and both call Atlanta home. So we took the opportunity to hit up both in one weekend. Here’s how it went.

The Spence

The Spence is located in the Georgia Tech district of downtown Atlanta, and it’s location belies the type of food and atmosphere you find inside. Great modern decor is featured prominently and the music set the mood. Right away, we are seated and handed the menu in a large manila-style envelope.

The Spence’s menu for that night…changes every night.

As you can see, the menu that night featured lots of things I’d never seen or tasted before, so this was going to be one heck of a night.  The table next to us getting something odd-looking and we ask what it was: the bone marrow dish. It’s actually a bone with the marrow on it, topped with tuna tartare and a couple of fried quail eggs, and you get a couple pieces of bread to smear it all on before eating it.  So, being bold, I decide to get that.  Christy goes with the Carte De Musica, which is a type of really thin bread, covered in what looked like arugula, pecorino cheese, and white anchovies.  First, my dish:

The bone marrow, tuna tartare, fried quail egg dish

And now, Christy’s dish:

The Carte De Musica dish, with arugula, pecorino cheese and white anchovies.

Needless to say, the bone marrow dish was really, really interesting. I probably never would’ve ordered it had I not seen it first.  But, having tried it, I can honestly say it was a very well prepared dish.  Christy liked hers as well, although not a huge fan of the anchovies.  We had ordered a bottle of wine, and as such we were already feeling good this far into the meal.  We decided to each order a salad next and then we’d see how we felt about ordering either an entree or go with another small plate.

Our salads were probably the most basic part of the meal and as such, we didn’t snap pictures of those.  Christy’s was a “Not So Simple” Green Salad, and I had their version of the “Caesar” salad which was actually shredded kale.  I forgot how unbelievably dense kale is, and so I couldn’t (and didn’t want) to finish it.  Not because it wasn’t good…I just wanted to save room for something else.  We moved onto two small plates next.  Christy was going to be bold and order the uni spaghettini and I was going to get the porcini noodles.  Once the dishes arrived though, we ended up swapping and being very happy.  Here’s mine, the spaghettini:

The uni speghettini with lobster, chili and thai basil

And then, Christy’s dish:

The porcini noodles with oxtail, egg and truffle.

Both were unbelievable, but we wanted a little something to top off the meal, so we ordered what our server said was the best dessert on the menu…the milk chocolate, peanut and burnt banana ice cream.

Heaven on a plate.

This was unreal…excellent prepared, and the pieces went together like a beautiful harmony.  A great ending to the night, and a great capper.

Onto our next stop…

Woodfire Grill

Woodfire Grill is located in midtown, right off I-85, and very easy to find. There’s a bar right when you go in, and then the main dining room past that.  It was bustling with folks already when we got there around 7:30pm, and the atmosphere was nice.  It was more subdued than The Spence, and as such put us at ease immediately.  Each and every face that we saw greeted us warmly with a smile and a “Good evening”.  That was a nice touch.  Don’t get me wrong…the service at The Spence was excellent, but it was an urban setting, and as such, it really felt “fast” to me.  The feeling at Woodfire Grill was much more relaxed.

We got our table right away and was greeted by Heather, our waitress.  Our menus had “Happy Birthday, Matt!” on them, which was a very nice touch (we were there celebrating my birthday, which is this Thursday, August 2nd).  The main menu had three course offerings with 3-4 choices per offering, but something that intrigued us right away was the 5-course chef’s tasting menu.  Nothing in it was on the menu, and so it’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

Right off, the amuse was delicious and tart.  it was roasted golden beets. local fromage blanc. charred lemon marmalade, served on a very small spoon.  After that, it was onto the first course:

confit georgia white shrimp. cucumber. castaveltrano olive. celery hearts. espelette and chives.

Absoutely delicious and succulent shrimp…cooked to perfection. Cold and crisp. Christy, who is not a fan of seafood, ate hers up as well. Just a great flavor combination. Onto course number two…

crispy north carolina trout. heirloom cherry tomatoes. summer pickles. dill aioli.

Probably our least favorite of the 5 courses here…not that any of it was bad. The trout was well cooked but I wasn’t a fan of the dill aioli at all.  The rest of the dish was very nice.  The aioli just overpowered everything.  Before moving onto the third course, we had an intermezzo of heirloom tomato water, basil and olive oil, served in a shot glass.  It was very good, but strong…Christy wouldn’t drink hers…something about the oil floating on top…onto course number three…

wood grilled plantation quail. summer squash and carolina gold rice casserole. crispy chow mein noodles. garlic béchamel.

Really, really great dish here…the quail was cooked to utter perfection, and the glaze was to die for. The rice casserole was a nice touch, a tip of the cap to the southern roots of the place, and the crispy chow mein was well placed.  And now, the pieces de resistance…

smoked pork loin and slow cooked pork belly. bbq pork rinds. ragout of black-eyed peas. warm peaches. bacon jus.

The masterpiece…pork four ways. The belly was the best part for me, Christy liked the pork loin the best. But you can’t go wrong with a bacon jus, can’ you?! Every single aspect of this dish was well thought out and well prepared, right down to the ragout of black-eyed peas and peaches.  Simply a marvelous dish.  And finally, for dessert…

valrhona caramelia milk chocolate. buttermilk ice cream. crushed peaches. buttermilk cake. white peach fluid gel. peanut crisp.

A lot going on in this plate…as you can tell by it’s description.  The buttermilk ice cream might’ve been my favorite part.  A light but satisfying end  to the meal.

I should say that with each and every course, including dessert, there was a wine pairing that matched up perfectly with each dish.  Heather and the gang at Woodfire Grill made my birthday sometime to remember…we’ll be back again and again.

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