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The Spence restaurant review, Midtown

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Our waiter brings a plate under a foot-high glass bell filled with an opaque cloud of smoke. What is this? I don’t remember ordering a bong.

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As we gape, the waiter smiles and removes this fanciful cloche with a flourish worthy of a French maitre d’ in a cartoon. The sweet smoke clears to reveal…chicken. Pretty good chicken at that — roasted and served with some loose grits, a bit of tomato and that quick hit of smoke.

What I’ll most remember about this dish, though, is not the flavor but the surprise parlor trick. And that’s OK. People expect a good parlor trick or two from the man, the brand, Richard Blais.

The local chef, television personality and burger baron is back with his first full-service restaurant in years. Those of us who’ve been around the Atlanta dining block have followed him for the better part of a decade and through more than a handful of area restaurants. But for the past few years all we’ve had to chew on were his wacky takes on hamburgers and hot dogs at Flip Burger Boutique and HD1.

Roaasted marrow bone topped with tuna tartare and quail eggs (photos by Becky Stein)

Roaasted marrow bone topped with tuna tartare and quail eggs (photos by Becky Stein)

This drought now ends with The Spence, Blais’ partnership with Concentrics Hospitality — an area restaurant group that had previously hired him to run the kitchens at One Midtown Kitchen and the now-defunct Piebar. For this new venture, Blais vows he’s “over the whole ‘creativity for creativity’s sake’ thing,” and focused instead on “good, simple cooking.” The name itself is an archaic term for larder.

I’m not sure I’d call the food at The Spence simple (this larder holds smoke powder and sea-urchin-flavored noodles) but it is often quite good and just as much fun as his earlier efforts without seeming like such a science project. Blais still hugs his canister of liquid nitrogen tight, but he has established himself as a gifted chef with a signature touch. Some of his creations here are small marvels that strike your fancy and linger in your memory. However, The Spence isn’t quite yet a fully satisfying restaurant. As fun as it can be to explore, it’s a roller coaster, where across-the-board fine meals can be elusive.

Inhale it: The Spence's roast chicken

Inhale it: The Spence's roast chicken

My advice is to focus on the lengthy list of appetizers and small plates, where the kitchen zips and zings. A crisp, diaphanous flatbread called a carta da musica ($11) dares you with its weirdly felicitous toppings of lardo (cured pork fat), pickled anchovies and arugula. It’s a frisky thing that caresses and then slaps until the last shard disappears.

I also love the so-wrong-it’s-right pairing of roasted bone marrow ($13) heaped with tuna tartare and fried quail eggs. Bits of preserved lemon in the mix manage to speak to the marrow’s fat and the tuna’s lushness. Ditto kale Caesar salad ($7) made with only the leaf ruffles and an amped-up dressing that stays bright as you chew and chew these firm greens.

Add Blais’ showmanship to these gutsy flavors, and the meal can really delight you. Witness the daily-changing “canned soup” ($8) — for us, a creamy vichyssoise that the waiter pours from a can billowing cold smoke. Hello, liquid nitrogen!

Raw hamachi ($14) arrives rolled up like ribbons on slate-colored earthenware, with bits of fried clam, yuzu and mayonnaise enhanced with smoke powder. It is lovely (if also essentially a retweet of Noma chef Rene Redzepi’s signature style) though I find the ingredients don’t communicate.

spencedesignThat happens here. This kitchen can pile on flavors and ideas like so many gadgets shoved into a kitchen utility drawer. The two cannoli-sized lobster “knuckle sandwiches” ($17) are like cute baby lobster rolls, made with all knuckle meat. And they sport so many pickled mustard seeds that all you taste is spicy, vinegary grit. The overwrought punster strikes again with “oysters and pearls” ($12) — some lovely Shigoku oysters weighted down by a watermelon vinaigrette and frozen dots of horseradish-mustard sauce. A murky, overly rich bowl of that sea-urchin spaghettini ($14) drips with spice, butter and a few poor nubbins of lobster.

Richard Blais

Richard Blais

This all comes out in the wash if you’re passing and sharing plates. Thumbs are sometimes up, sometimes down, but the meal stays fun from start to finish. When you order entrees and try to build a more traditional meal, you get the feeling this kitchen lacks focus. A springy steak cut from a leg of lamb ($27) comes with soft gnocchi and eggplant that tastes like a Chinese restaurant. Fine. A slab of pork belly topped with a (too gummy) shrimp ravioli ($23). Fine. That flashy bong chicken ($24). Just fine. But the meal turns dribsy-drabsy.

Then again, some of the simplest and least showy items on the menu are the best. The “Juicy Lucy” ($14) — a fat burger stuffed with white American cheese — is both a marvel of engineering and an incredible burger. Also, the “family meal” has been fantastic both times I tried it. The kitchen sells a few orders of the staff meal at cost each evening. Once it was a lamb shepherd pie ($3.67), another time a French bread pizza topped with marinated squash ($2.98). This kitchen has fine technique, and when it prepares simpler dishes it shines.

The front of the house shines from start to finish under the direction of general manager and sommelier Justin Amick, son of Concentrics owner Bob Amick. Service always strikes the right tone in a setting where the high-energy kitchen literally spills out into the dining room like some kind of experimental theater.

Yuzu semifreddo

Yuzu semifreddo

Big kudos also go to Amick’s wine list, each category cleverly divided between “tried and true” and “leap of faith” wines. Many unusual varietals and under-recognized viticultural areas are represented.

I also am developing a serious crush on the handiwork of pastry chef Andrea Litvin, whose abstract heaps of crunch and cream come together in such complex layers in the mouth.

Her pineapple upside-down cake with foie caramel ($7) gets all the attention, but her malted barley panna cotta with popped sorghum ($6) and thrilling yuzu semifreddo with peach sorbet and chili ($7) are what linger in my mind.

As do many dishes at The Spence. I say go for the thrills and chills, the smoke and mirrors. But buckle up: It’s a bumpy ride.

THE SPENCE
75 Fifth St. N.W., Atlanta. 404-892-9111
2stars5Food: Creative American bistro fare
Service: Excellent, though the kitchen lags when busy
Best dishes: Marrow bones with tuna tartare, family meal, Juicy Lucy, yuzu semifreddo
Vegetarian selections: Yes
Price range: $$$
Credit cards: All major
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
Children: Too much noise and commotion for younger kids
Parking: Valet at night, validated indoor parking at lunch
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Very high
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes

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52 comments Add your comment

Mike

August 9th, 2012
9:10 am

I live a few blocks from The Spence and have dined there twice. Both times were great! It’s great to have another good option in midtown.

Chris

August 9th, 2012
9:18 am

Eh. It’s another gimmick restaurant with half-decent experimental food, that’s over-priced to compensate for the Midtown rent and trendiness. Sometimes it’s best for a good chef to just make good food and be less artsy with it. For the same money, you can go eat at much better places.

Roger P.

August 9th, 2012
10:30 am

Forget the food, this is a wonderfully written review.

James

August 9th, 2012
10:35 am

Really surprised to see you only gave this place 2 stars. Finally, Someone did something different than southern farm to table with fried chicken, charcuterie, or pickled veggies served in mason jars. I’ve eaten here three times now and every time the menu is different and delicious. Since it seems they change their menu frequently there will inevitably be hits and misses but blais is definitely putting out some killer food. I actually haven’t liked all his past restaurants but he did it right with this one. It is a really exciting restaurant and I agree the wine list is super silly good as well. Might be the best in the city. No mentions of the tasty cocktails either as their bartenders have made me some inventive libations on and off their actual list. The spence is 4 in my book.

rebelliousrose

August 9th, 2012
10:40 am

“Our waiter brings a plate under a foot-high glass bell filled with an opaque cloud of smoke. What is this? I don’t remember ordering a bong.”

I laughed out loud. Thank you.

bummed by my service

August 9th, 2012
11:51 am

Took the wife here about 2 weeks ago. It was around 9 and the place was packed! We were excited, especially after seeing how unique the menu was. It was going to be about an hour wait, so we decided to skip the wait and sit at the communal tables. This is where it went bad: First, Atlantan have no idea how to deal with communal tables, the’re so self absorbed in their McMansions they have difficulty not giving the stinky eye to people sitting across or next to them. Second, we waited 30 minutes for the dummy waiter to not bring us our drink. 30 MINUTE WAIT FOR A COCKTAIL??? No way, we walked. Octopus Bar got our money that night, and the bartender there was amazing.

Stephen

August 9th, 2012
3:00 pm

I’m quite surprised by the two star rating. I have enjoyed three meals at The Spence since it opened and have been delighted by the ingenuity of the small places, even when they weren’t necessarily to my liking taste wise. At least Blais and his kitchen are challenging palates and not just playing it safe. I, for one, am so tired of the typical “farm-to-table” meal served in almost every restaurant here in Atlanta. The Spence seems to have hit on trends and tastes that I find in my travels elsewhere to cities with more diverse and experimental dining scenes.
Where your review definitely got it right was in critiquing the service. I have had 3 different waiters (Peter, Bradley, and Alex) and each offered a fun, unique dining experience while maintaining an extraordinarily high level of service, particularly considering the high volume the restaurant is currently enjoying. All three were beyond knowledgeable and obviously passionate about their place of employ.

Stephen

August 9th, 2012
3:01 pm

Pardon the typo. Small plates, not places.

Jere

August 9th, 2012
3:11 pm

what Roger P said

Peter Lonitte

August 9th, 2012
3:39 pm

Richard Blais is a hack. All he does is close restaurants and try to serve kitchy gimmicky food. He’s more concerned with book deals and consulting on hamburger joints than he is with serving us good food. I hear that he is moving to SF with his family later this year. Not confirmed but wouldn’t surprise me. I have a ton of foodie friends in Atlanta and we’re all over the RB show.

Austin Bower

August 9th, 2012
3:45 pm

I am really surprised at Kessler. 2 stars? REALLY? I have been here 5 times, if you get there early you get to star at hot students eating family meal – which Spence serves for pennies until it runs out (which it does nightly) – last time i was there an entire lacrosse team was eating, yum. The food is outstanding – i am SO OVER every restaurant being farm to table breh- You gave the Optimist 3 stars and the food was overpriced and inedible AND you yourself wrote bad things about the optimist. What gives? 2 stars is absurd. Really.

John Kessler

August 9th, 2012
4:10 pm

Thanks a lot for reading, everyone. I really have liked the energy at the Spence, and I do think Richard is a talented chef. But this place has so far been a little too up and down for me. I’ve actually postponed this review a couple of times to give the restaurant more time and do a bit more research. I’ve been four times and had one really good meal and three mixed ones. I’m sure this review was disappointing for them, and may be very different from your experiences. I do applaud this place for breaking the mold and trying something new.
As far as cocktails: I tried one that had a lot of flash (a flavored marshmallow, smoke) but didn’t seem particularly well balanced.
As far as the Optimist: It is more expensive, and the cooking is less ambitious in some way. But I’ve gotten more pleasure from my meals there.

John Kessler

August 9th, 2012
4:11 pm

Thanks Roger and Jere – appreciate it.

Juicy Lucy

August 9th, 2012
4:23 pm

Love it. FINALLY, somewhere to eat a quality meal in midtown without paying $100 for a crouton.

Foody = Fatty

August 9th, 2012
4:28 pm

Thanks for the well-written article.
It was honest, and I didn’t pick up that much of a negative vibe.
Comments were very specific and thoughtful.
It’s exactly what a reader needs from a restaurant critic.
Since it is in town, I will try it. Nothing in this review made me think I would be a sucker for going there once.

Mike

August 9th, 2012
4:34 pm

John, while I cringe whenever I read “small plates” in one of your reviews, I have to say this is one of the best you’ve ever done. It’s funny, honest, and tells me what I need to know. Which, in my case, is that it might be a bit too out-there for my taste. But I do enjoy Flip, so I may try it out.

And it’s usually the second bong that you don’t remember ordering.

Mary

August 9th, 2012
4:45 pm

went there with a group of girls… we struggled to find anything on the menu that looked appealing… the best choice is definitely the juicy lucy.. everything else was less than good to inedible! won’t be going back worst $ 60 spent on a meal EVER!

Dr. Vino

August 9th, 2012
4:52 pm

Read the descriptors of what the star count means. essentially, 0 = poor. 1 = decent, 2 = good, 3 = great, 4 = top in area, 5 = top in the ATL

These are not over-starred Yelp & Opentable reviews from amateur eaters where waffle house gets 4-5 stars from some patrons. I agree with the review and # of stars from my last experience there, although my service was far worse. I’m hoping they improve on the shortcomings and deserve 3 stars. 4 would be unrealistic to expect in Kessler’s rating system.

Afficionado

August 9th, 2012
5:01 pm

The girls who work at the Flip in West Midtown are hot.

Rev. Reetard

August 9th, 2012
5:04 pm

Hey John, when are you going to review the new Twin Peaks that just opened in Buckhead?

Rick Day

August 9th, 2012
5:19 pm

This is in my neighborhood eatery area. 5th between Williams and West Peachtree has become quite the spot for having lunch or (unless it is after 9PM) supper.

I went once and I didn’t like it. Now, I’m not a big fan of making a production out of a meal, unless it’s while being judged at a BBQ cookoff. I don’d ‘do’ TV so this guys star-power (unlike everyone else who posted including the reviewer) tries HARD to not announce a bias, while being biased.

People…we don’t HAVE to live the pretentious lifestyle that demands $14 hamburgers. For the past 10 years, Midtown has been trying to outdo Buckhead in “puttin’ on the Ritz” like kids playing grownup dressup.

Stop it. Put on some cheap jeans, wear the holes in the knees honestly, slap on a tee shirt and go to Tin Drum, the Sushi place next to The $pence, or hell Moes! (Do you ever hear WELCOTO$SPENCE) when you walk in?

Quit buying mojitos and start drinking High Life. Save your money for rainy days that are coming. Raw tuna on a bone? Can we get real here, please??

$pence. Yes it is.

Melissa

August 9th, 2012
10:27 pm

Wow. Not going to lie. I actually run One of the more respected restaurants in the city and this place definitely would be better suited in a bigger city as you clearly don’t get something cool when it’s right in our own city. I can’t name 10 better restaurants in the city than the spence and based on the two times I’ve been it would be hard to name many at all. So refreshing to see something more big picture. I feel like I’m eating at the same restaurant every time I get to go out in this city. Didn’t you give Barcelona wine bar 3 stars. That chain has to be one of the cheesiest scenes in town putting out tasteless food. Watershed on peachtree just got 3 stars and couldn’t be more generic of a restaurant. The spence is definitely the best restaurant to open this summer out of the optimist and the watershed. They should get at least 3 stars just for their ambitious wine program and great desserts. Your not going to like everything in a place that changes their menu every night and I agree with you on some of the misses but all those tricks would be having people go nuts in any other city besides our own. It’s a shame that our city can’t recognize creativity. Also I like one eared stags food as well but Richard can out cook him any day and you gave that place 4 stars on food alone. Sorry I just had to chime in because two stars is an absolute slap in the face to the spence. This is not the family dog here. Ouch I’m mad because they actually make our local industry stronger and better. Keep doing what your doing. At least 3 in my book.

Renee

August 10th, 2012
7:56 am

I just do not agree with you. We went to the Spence last night and several times before that and every dish we had was wonderful. Oysters and Pearls, Lamb, Chicken wings, watermelon gazpacho. The food is creative and delicious and I wanted to go back unlike the same old overpriced food in so many other restaurants you have given higher stars to. Sorry John, you have lost me on this one.

Jerry

August 10th, 2012
8:06 am

Kessler, why two stars when the definition clearly says “the food is consistent”?

Tacos

August 10th, 2012
8:09 am

Wow so much adieu over a 2-star review. I just had to comment on Melissa’s comment. If you run One of the more respected restaurants in the city then you know the review is not simply a review of the chef. It’s a review of the entire dining experience. I’ve never been to the Spence. but One Eared Stag is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. I’ve eaten there at least 5-6 times and it’s always been great. And you know what? I’ve never left there thinking, “Wow Robert is such a great chef. He’s so much better than Richard Blais (or whoever).” Chances are he wasn’t there when I ate there. Just as chances are Richard’s not there when you eat at the Spence.
It doesn’t matter how amazing and creative a chef is, if the kitchen has problems executing the food then it’s just not going to be that great.
Maybe a 2 star review is a slap in the face, or maybe it’s just someone honestly recounting his experiences and the kitchen can use it to improve. Not to mention the fact that Kessler gave them several chances and put off writing this review for a bit to give them that chance to improve. So it sounds like he’s being totally fair here. AND, if you read the explanations for the stars against the review, you’ll notice that one star is “hit or miss” while 2 is “consistent.” so really, the review by definition is a one star review, as the main thing Kessler harped on is the food’s inconsistency.

Robert

August 10th, 2012
9:39 am

I think the review is generally on target, but I take exception to the reviewer’s favorable view of the wine list. I think it is subpar. And regardless of what one thinks of the list itself, the wine is being stored high up in the room in the open air, very close to the kitchen, resulting in wine being served too warm. This is just not a good way to store wine at all, which is suprising given that Justin is obviously proud of his wine program. One would think he would take better care of the bottles.

Ned Ludd

August 10th, 2012
9:43 am

Imagine my chagrin when I ordered a bong and got a chicken…I think.

Nick

August 10th, 2012
9:49 am

Have dined at the Spence several times and have had excellent experiences. Kessler needs to stick to what he knows, dim sum on Buford Highway, based on the star rating offered in the review.

David

August 10th, 2012
10:36 am

Two stars is pretty ridiculous. Just about every average restaurant in this city receives at least two stars. I honestly was wondering if they were going to get four or 3 from you based on my visits. They are doing some really cool things over there. Guess that was your last visit to the spence John because they probably won’t let you in the building if you ever try to step foot in there again. Ouch for them.

Gabby

August 10th, 2012
11:53 am

Probably the most talented chef and sommelier in the city getting only 2 stars for what their doing? I hope they don’t change their menu to southern farm to table and pour rombauer chard by the glass now. Thanks John.

Jules

August 10th, 2012
12:21 pm

The first paragraph of the review sums up this place perfectly. It’s really to bad because Richard Blaise is a pretty talented chef and there is no reasons he needs to resort to gimmicks to make his food taste good. The real problem I have though with his new ventures is not the gimmicks, but the flavor of the food, which is a cacophony without a clever approach. The combination of flavors make very little sense and it is obvious in the taste of the food. What a disappointment. I am used to see this mediocrity from Concentric, but I thought Blaise could do better.

Stephanie

August 10th, 2012
12:36 pm

Some of you clearly don’t get it. Eleven Madison park was just praised for doing a smoke filled dome dish in NYC this past week. Word on the street is that two of Kessler’s visits were with the only other two food critics in the entire city. Shouldn’t you put both of their names on this article as well. I’m trying to imagine if that woud ever happen in a bigger city like NYC, San Fran, or Chicago. The fact that every restaurant in this city knows what you look like is even more of a joke. We have food columnists in this city not real critics. If its about the entire experience how is this only a two star restaurant when you raved about the service, wine list, desserts and may of the food items. I need to stop reading the garbage that is put out in this city. What a shame.

Jim

August 10th, 2012
12:56 pm

Been to the Spence, and won’t be back unless under duress. Atmosphere is grotesque, service very spotty, food not good enough to make up for it (hit or miss as John says). I love the Blais we see on TV, but find the restaurants he’s been behind entirely confounding – none seem to reflect the persona we’ve seen publicly. It’s like he’s putting all his energy in trying to impress the cool kids, making the food seem like an afterthought. So disappointing, because he should be able to create something great. You won freakin Top Chef All-Stars for crying out loug, make it about the food!!!

Put it this way: If you’re over 25 (developmentally at least…), or if you like talking with your dining companion(s) instead of bobbing your head to the skull thumping bass, or if you care more about the food itself than being seen in your cute new digs, or if you’re annoyed when the wait staff looks like they’ve just walked out of an Abercrombie photo shoot, then the Spence is not for you.

Jennifer

August 10th, 2012
2:50 pm

Very disappointed to see The Spence only got 2 stars. I find that out of all the restaurants in this city that it would be the one to succeed in most major restaurant cities. This city seems to praise all the wrong establisments. You missed bad on this one John.

John Kessler

August 10th, 2012
3:32 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I’m listening to you. There is one certain IP address that has made the same point in several ways. If you are the same person, your opinion is noted. Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

Richard

August 10th, 2012
6:09 pm

So…I think David Chang said it best in Luck Peach Issue #3. You can’t be a celebrity and a chef. The s%&t doesn’t work! A proper successful restaurant takes an extraordinary eye for detail, a proper palate, good business sense, and most of all YOUR PRESENCE! Period. You can’t run a restaurant without your eyes on EVERYTHING! It is one thing to be full of technique, nouvelle ideas, and tricks up your sleeve, but if you aren’t there to explain, invigorate, inspire, and demand this from your staff your “vision” will fail. CELEBRITY CHEFDOM NEEDS TO GO FIND A WHOLE SOMEWHERE AND DIE! Tell you what, you want to be a celebrity in food, Learn how to cook and run a business first! Be good at that for a few years and then maybe you have the right to get out of your kitchen and entertain doing something new. Concentrics must have lost millions over the past 10 years with this guy already? You would think they would be tired of him, I know Atlanta is! I mean Richard is a nice enough guy but C’mon man pick it, Celebrity or Chef, you can’t have both.

JYarb

August 10th, 2012
8:12 pm

I’m still shocked that Richard Blais ripped off the “Juicy/Jucy Lucy” – a burger well-known and originated in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The restaurants dueling over who created it first have been on every “best burger EVER” show on Food Network and Travel Channel. I only hope Blais does it justice, because I’ve had the 5-8 Club’s version and it is delicious!

Giulio

August 11th, 2012
7:10 am

I don’t agree with every one of his reviews, but with The Spence, Kessler is right on target. The issue with the restaurant is Blais complexity which is difficult to sustain. There is a reason for the KISS moniker. Simple = Sustainable, hence, as the Blais minions pointed out the explosion of the farm to table movement in the city. The food might not be sexy but the results are usually much more consistent.

Joe

August 11th, 2012
7:43 am

Well written, very fair review which exactly matches my experiences at The Spence. A few of the dishes are truly fantastic (mostly the appetizers as the reviewer says), but some are just average to poor. I might only have added that it is no place to go to actually talk with anyone you care about. There is no sound deadening and the two-tops are practically butted up against each other. The din drowns out all conversation, and I don’t like sitting closer to two strangers than to my wife.

Joey Zelinka

August 11th, 2012
1:35 pm

Since when is 2 stars a bad thing? I was pumped to get 2 stars. Shows exactly where I’m at, not where I’m going.

Mike

August 11th, 2012
9:21 pm

I live in NYC and had the pleasure of visiting ATL and dining at the Spence two weeks ago. I don’t understand this review at all?!?! What is this comment about a “bong”? This smokey cloche is not only functional, but the theatricality is very entertaining to the customer. If you look back at the cover of the NYT about a week ago, you would see a picture of Eleven Madison (one of the finest restaurants in the country) using this exact technique. All of your claims seem to be way off. I had an amazing dining experience and am surprised to see this only received 2 stars? The only part of this review I would agree with would be the wine program and the service, both impeccable. If I ever come back to ATL the Spence will be the first place that visit. Everyone please disregard this review.

James

August 12th, 2012
9:01 am

Seriously, Mike? Did somebody steal NYC’s sense of humor?! Though I enjoyed your exposition on the merits of the smokey cloche. Do you have them in blue?

Don’t worry, I’ll definitely disregard your review, as you wish.

Walter Little, Jr.

August 12th, 2012
11:47 am

John, I loved the comment about the bong! I just howled as I read it. Keep up the good work!

matt

August 12th, 2012
2:48 pm

I’m so confused. This review reads like at least a 3 star restaurant. I’ve been twice and both times were some of the best meals I’ve had in the ATL in a really long time. I loved the uni pasta, bone marrow, sweetbreads, and oyster and pearls. I’ve also had some great entrees although I do agree the small plates are the way to go here. I’m a huge wine enthusiast and would now have to say the best wine lists in the city in order are The Spence, Empire State South, and then Miller Union. Love how it is organized into Tried and True and Leap of Faith and there is always something fun and new to try on their ever changing list. I have really enjoyed some delicious cocktails and the service has always been right on point even when extrememly busy. I find that your reviews and all from the AJC are very inconsistent in terms of your overall star ratings. If this place is only a two star restaurant then your paper has severely gotten it wrong on many other way less ambitious establishments. I also find it hard to compare reviews from Kessler and from some of the other AJC critics as The Watershed just received 3 stars from one of their reviewers but if Kessler had done the review it might not of even got 1 star. Two stars seems to be two short for The Spence from a two star critic. I’m not even a big Richard Blais fan. I’m just a fan of good food and beverage.

M Long

August 12th, 2012
3:55 pm

LOL @ James No Worries Yankee we will be more thank happy to disregard your review………

Marsh

August 13th, 2012
8:45 am

I still miss Fishbone, but that probably makes me a philistine.

Giulio

August 13th, 2012
10:00 am

Matt, Mike…..and how many other names are going to use to hoplessly try to give props to an establishment that needs a new identity? After seeing Richard Blais on Bravo and Iron Chef America when he was still the chef at One Midtown Kitchen, I became a huge fan and had to go try one of his establishments for myself. As someone else had already told me it seems that while a great chef, Richard just doesn’t have the other qualities you need to put a successful business together. You can harp on Kessler review all you want, but he is right on the money. You can read the same opinion Kessler expressed pretty much arcoss the board (see Yelp or Urbanspoon). Most diners that don’t seem to have a vested interest in the business have had the same mixed experience that John so clearly illustrated. Some dishes are truely great while other leave a lot to be desired. All in all not worth the high price and hassle.

Krystle Meyer

August 13th, 2012
11:32 am

Blais is more concerned with getting pics in the dining room, didn’t see him near the kitchen once. And it shows – the food is more miss than hit. But people love drinking the Kool-Aid…

John Kessler

August 13th, 2012
11:33 am

Hey, folks – I appreciate the discussion, and a lot of you make good points for and against my review without a lot of name calling. (Yay.) Believe me, I think the Spence has the potential to be one of the defining restaurants in the city, and I hope I conveyed my enthusiasm for all the ways the restaurant is doing something new and fresh for Atlanta. Over four visits, I did manage to eat my way through a wide swath of the menu. When I tallied up all the dishes, it didn’t seem like there were enough really great ones to bump up the assessment. But the great ones there are give me a lot of hope. I want this restaurant to succeed because I think Richard Blais, Justin Amick, Andrea Litvin and chef de cuisine Adrian Villareal are real talents who are honing a vision for a major restaurant.

Glenn

August 13th, 2012
11:38 am

My wife and I dine out regularly, and I have to say that we enjoyed the Spence. When you compare their menu selection, quality of the food and service, location, and prices, versus other restaurants in the area, I’d give them four or five stars. If you are more interested in something “pretentious,” much more expensive, and a more “classic” type of a menu, then try someplace else. We’re going back.