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.
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.
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.
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.WEST & MILL
Food: an evolving mixture of European-inspired dishes and small plates