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West & Mill Bistro Bar restaurant review, Atlanta



Restaurants occasionally shift their focus radically to reflect food trends or the cooking style of a new chef. They shake things up to see what sticks.

Over the years, Parish in Inman Park moved from Creole to pork-centric to American regional cuisine while keeping its decor and name intact. Other restaurants tinker with more than the menu, revamping the decor and rebranding with a new name or concept, as was the case with Relish Restaurant in Roswell, which became the now-closed Pico Auténtico.Jenny-Turknett-Review

Sometimes it sticks, sometimes not.

West & Mill on Atlanta’s westside pulled the old switcheroo last fall, transitioning from bakery-cafe to bistro-bar. It originally opened last March as Swit Bakery & Cafe, serving breads, cakes and pastries inspired by those owner Diana Stawnyczy made as a child helping with her Eastern European mom’s catering business.

But with its Marietta Street address, Swit was located in an area with a number of heavy hitters serving both lunch and dinner, like the Optimist, Miller Union, JCT. Kitchen & Bar and Bocado. According to Stawnyczy, Swit “just didn’t get enough walk-by traffic.”

Instead of adding dinner hours as originally planned, the restaurant received a major overhaul. Swit morphed into West & Mill, outsourcing bread production, abandoning weekday breakfast for dinner, adding a beverage program with cocktails designed by their liquor distributor, and hiring an experienced chef.

Not everything changed in the shake-up. The butcher paper table liners bear a new logo, but the interior remains largely the same, save the wall erected to prevent harsh kitchen lighting from ruining the ambience during darker dinner hours.

Jamaican-born chef Gavin Blair, who now leads the kitchen, works within a loosely modified concept. Blair has been an opening consultant for multiple Atlanta restaurants. His dinner menu offers a collection of not-so-small plates and a handful of entrees, making it more interesting and appealing than either the lunch or brunch menus.

Yet two stumbling blocks loom large: consistency and cohesion.

West & Mill’s lunch and weekend brunch menus remain similar to Swit’s, with European-inspired dishes like the decadent béchamel-creamed Croque Monsieur ($8) and glossy fried-egg topped Madame ($9) sandwiches. The sandwiches come paired with soup, watery cole slaw or fries.

Go for the soup. The French onion ($4 cup, $6 bowl a la carte) is a permanent fixture on the menu for good reason. It’s a harmonious medley of sweet, long-caramelized onions and thyme-scented house-made beef demi-glace. Though not golden and blistered, the melty gruyére on the floating crostini pulls in strings that you’ll pinch off with your fingers.

If you go with the fries, you’ll notice a new and inferior french fry accompanying sandwiches. Those Belgian frites ($8 appetizer) have a stale, powdery interior, a tell-tale sign of the frozen product Blair claims customers love.

Crispy green beans (all photos by Becky Stein)

Crispy green beans (all photos by Becky Stein)

I’d stick with the crispy green beans ($6) encased in a fluffy tempura-like batter made with a combination of rice and wheat flour. The lemon and tabasco aioli adds a brightness and heat, keeping it light.

I’d also suggest the asparagus and farm egg plate ($8), featuring angular slices of al dente asparagus dotted with plugs of thick, truffled mushroom-balsamic-dijon vinaigrette.The highlight is the uniformly thin and thoroughly crispy waves of speck folded on itself like sections of ribbon candy.

Hopes for the restaurant were tempered by the layered slices of duck breast ($12). It was bliss at first bite of spiced apple jam (more the texture of a chutney), but then I tasted the duck, its unwelcome ammonia flavor no match for the chutney.

Braised short rib

Braised short rib

While these small plates dominate the dinner menu, West & Mill offers a handful of entrees, like a creamy risotto ($19) made with a trio of mushrooms and house-made mushroom stock. One of my favorites is the braised short rib ($24), a dish large enough for two. The tender Painted Hills beef sits on a bed of thick-sliced potatoes, asparagus and mushrooms awash in a wine-enriched, beefy sauce.

If you plan ahead, you can finish on a sweet note with a souffle. Order it in advance to time it with the ending of your meal. The velvety chocolate souffle ($10) may overwhelm the chocolate gelato, giving it an artificial tang, but alone it’s molten luxury.

Maybe that chocolate souffle will help you forget the expanse of cold concrete flooring and soaring ceilings that put a damper on a cozy $75-plus dinner for two. Not all of the puzzle pieces — ambience, pricing, menus — have come together in this mid-game switch-up. We’ll just have to wait and see what sticks.

1000 Marietta St. N.W., Atlanta. 678-974-8953


Food: an evolving mixture of European-inspired dishes and small plates
Service: local college students, who try to be helpful but are inexperienced and somewhat timid
Best dishes: French onion soup, braised short rib
Vegetarian selections: a large selection of vegetarian small plates. Seasonal vegetable soups are made with mushroom stock to keep them vegetarian.
Price range: $$-$$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Sundays.
Children: fine
Parking: yes, shared lot
Reservations: yes
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate to high (when full)
Patio: yes
Takeout: yes


10 comments Add your comment

[...] West & Mill Bistro Bar restaurant review, Atlanta It was bliss at first bite of spiced apple jam (more the texture of a chutney), but then I tasted the duck, its unwelcome ammonia flavor no match for the chutney. Braised short rib. While these small plates dominate the dinner menu, West & Mill offers … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]


January 31st, 2013
10:40 am

It is hard for me to imagine this place can survive. I’ve only been there once, but up until the very end of our lunch, the place we empty. A few other tables filled up as we were leaving, but nothing like what I know was happening at other places all around us at the same time of day. The food is fine. I ordered the Croque Monsieur and, while it was tasty, nothing about it stood out from any other I’ve had. The French onion soup was better – rich and not overly salty, which I find to be a problem with so many variations of this dish. The crostini merited a knife – the tough crust held up well to the soup & cheese, but there was certainly no getting through it with a spoon. I am not surprised the fries are frozen. There was something about the texture of the inside that seemed off. While I did enjoy the crispiness, they lacked the “potatoiness” I like to taste. They were also fairly uniform in size, where fresh-cut fries tend not to be. The side order is a giant portion – enough for a table to share. The location seems to be hot for great restaurants right now; I’m not sure this one can compete.


January 31st, 2013
3:38 pm

My wife and I went to West & Mill immediately after it opened–that is, after the transition from Swit Bakery–and it was VERY good. They had a Belgian chef, Tom Leroy, which made sense, given the number of Belgian-y items on the menu like the Belgian Frites, Steak-Frites plate, the Vol-au-Benedict (cross vol-au-vent with Eggs Benedict), etc. In fact, the frites were every bit as good as one gets in Belgium, and the steak, which I requested medium-rare, came out just a hair more rare than what we expect here in America and exactly the way you get “medium-rare” in Belgium. My wife and I returned a week later to find, much to our dismay, that Tom and West & Mill had parted ways. I ordered the exact same thing, and it was not done properly, so I had to send it back TWICE. I can count the number of times I’ve sent food back in three decades of dining out on one hand, but I guess we had walked in to West & Mill that night almost giddy with such high expectations after our first visit. We were very discouraged, but we came back for brunch the next week with another couple, just to see if they had worked out the kinks. The Croque was not very good–really, drowning them in bechamel sauce is apparently an American adaptation of the European version–and the creatively named Vol-Au-Benedict was bland and uninteresting. We have not been back, and this review doesn’t exactly change my thinking.

If I may put in a small plug for Tom Leroy, I believe he currently has a catering business called A La Flamande in Acworth.


February 1st, 2013
8:14 am

Uh Oh, Jenny!! This review is another reason that you need to abandon the ridiculous “Star Rating” system. You give West & Mill a one-star rating, which seems appropriate. But lo and behold, someone screwed up and today’s (actual) newspaper has it printed with a FOUR-star rating!! So a casual reader now concludes that you rank it up there with Bacchanalia. How long before we see copies of that review framed in West & Mill’s bathrooms?


February 1st, 2013
11:23 am

I did not see this review on-line yesterday, but read it in today’s home-delivered AJC. After reading several of Jenny’s less than than flattering comments, I was surprised to see the hardcopy paper listed this as a 4-star review. Sensing this may have been an error, I see this on-line verion gives a more appropiate 1-star rating. You may wish to publish a correction in the hardcopy AJC.

Jenny Turknett

February 1st, 2013
1:12 pm

You guys are correct — should have been one star in the print version. A correction will run tomorrow. Thanks for reading!


February 1st, 2013
1:12 pm

Interesting, although entered 3 hours earlier, Mark’s comment did not appear on-line when I entered my remarks about the 4-star vs. 1-star ratings.


February 1st, 2013
1:40 pm

Speaking of their bathrooms, for a period of time after their opening you could look inside them, a window on both bathrooms allowed you to see the person before you sitting on the toilet seat. I wonder if the reviewer encountered that still.


February 1st, 2013
2:43 pm

@Glenn: it’s a quirk that I think results from using Chrome. Frequently when I post comments from Chrome, they don’t show up. Typically I try to remember to use IE when commenting but sometimes I forget. I tried to repost but gave up when second try did not show up, then lo and behold three hours later there it wsa. Hope they eventually figure out the Chrome issue.