Woodfire Grill: The Best Meal Of My Life

I’ve started this post twice already, and both times have just shut it down. Deleted it. Given up. I’m finding it difficult to find the words to do Woodfire Grill justice.

Dave and I went there on April 23 (we had to get reservations about 2 months in advance), for no reason other than I have always wanted to go. I became a big fan of Chef Kevin Gillespie on Top Chef (how one becomes a fan of a chef when you’ve never so much as smelled their food is still odd to me, but it happens. Check out parasocial interaction for more. Or take my COMM1101 class next semester…). Our foodie friends Laura & Heyward went back in December, and I could tell that they loved it because of the look on their faces when describing the meal. Turns out – as usual – they were right.

I’ve decided that the best approach to explaining why this was the best meal of my life is to just go in order of what we ate. Everything on the menu sounded delicious. We asked, and our waitress (who was the best waitress ever) advised us that, depending on our adventure & hunger levels, we should maybe consider the 7-course grand tasting menu. Which is exactly what we did.

At the end of the meal, she printed out a copy of our menu, complete with the types of wines we ordered (you can pair a “half” glass – more like a big half glass – with each course, but since I wanted to be somewhat sober to enjoy the food, we only sprang for a couple of half glasses), AND got it autographed by Chef Kevin, who walked into the kitchen, in plain sight, at about course 2. I freaked out and stared at him the whole time. Not creepy at all. See? Here’s our autographed menu:

And I’m glad we have this menu, because I can’t even pronounce half the ingredients on here, much less would I have been able to recreate, in sufficient detail, the level of awesomeness that we consumed. Example: if I was relying on my own brain to recreate the experience for you, I would say that halfway through the meal we got this pea soup shooter thing that was really good. But it was actually a “taste: chilled english pea soup, lemon oil, creme fraiche, preserved lemon.” See? Chef Kevin’s a much better descriptive writer than I am.

Without further ado, here’s a semi-annotated list of what I ate during the best meal of my life. Keep in mind, I ate *almost* every bite of food that was placed in front of me, and some of Dave’s. I wanted to take pictures, but decided to just chow down instead. We didn’t want to be “that” couple.

Pre-dinner: cocktails (we got there early… surprise, surprise… so to wait on our table, we had a pre-dinner drink). The cocktail list was cool. Dave got a “bitter’s end,” which was an orangey-bitter drink. I wouldn’t have preferred to drink it, but he seemed to like it. Mine was a “botanical garden,” chosen because it was vodka-based and it used rock candy syrup. It tasted like springtime.

As soon as we sat down, we were offered a basket of freshly baked breads (citrus foccacia, sourdough, and raisin pecan) with a champagne vinaigrette butter. I cannot tell you how much self control I had to exercise not to eat the entire basket of bread and the butter by the spoonful. I think it’s easier to train for triathlons year-round than it is to resist eating all of that bread. It physically pained me not to eat all of the things in that basket. The bread was perfect. And, y’all know I love me some compound butters. But what they served takes compound butter to a whole ‘nother level. It was a magical compound butter, probably made with fairy dust. Then, the dishes started rolling in, in the following order:

Amuse: roasted beet and orange gelee, compressed radish and espelette, local creme fraiche.

YES, we got an amuse-bouche. I wouldn’t know what that was if it wasn’t for Top Chef. They could’ve made the term up for all I know. Who cares. It’s a little bite of food that tastes very big. This one tasted like a garden. It’s the only radish and beet I’ve ever loved.

First Course: first of the season wild salmon tartare, celery, confit shallots, pomegranate molasses, chile oil, tahini sauce, chickpea crisps.

This was salmony, spicy, refreshing, & crisp. Had sort of a mediterranean thing going on with the tahini & chickpeas. I thought of my hummus buddies, @akudak & @bobzuercher. I think y’all would have liked this one, too.

Here, I ordered wine pairing #1: 2008 Fiddlehead Cellars Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez. It was a perfect pairing with the second course.

Second Course: pan roasted diver scallop, wilted treviso radicchio, braised local turnips, dill beurre fondue.

I tell you, this was the most perfectly cooked scallop I have ever had. It wasn’t ginormous – it was perfectly sized. But it was melt-in-your-mouth tasty scallopy goodness. It was so good, I didn’t want any of the condiments with it. As a condiment lover, that’s saying something.

Third Course: cornmeal fried gulf oysters, finochiono aioli, giardiniera, micro celery.

This was the only dish Dave disliked. It was a texture thing for him. I learned, with this dish, I will eat anything battered in cornmeal and fried, even oysters. I thought they were sublime. I happened to love the texture. Chewy, but somehow not chewy, all at the same time. I can tell you I probably won’t ever get oysters again, because there’s no way they’ll be that good. The waitstaff was freaking out about the finochiono and giardiniera for some reason… apparently they’re only in season for like 2 days every 5th year to align with the passing of some extra-terrestrial star? Who knows. The whole thing was delicious.

Taste: chilled english pea soup, lemon oil, creme fraiche, preserved lemon. (hence the pea soup shooter thingie I was telling you about earlier. This was meant to transition us from the lighter dishes to the heavier ones. I will take any random pea soup that I can get, especially one that was this fresh and delicious.)

Fourth Course:  wood grilled natural sweetbreads, roasted peanuts, caramelized strawberry preserves, wilted endive.

YES. We ate sweetbreads. Again, this is something I wouldn’t know about unless I’d watched Top Chef. Dave ate the entire plate of this food. I ate *most* of mine. Upon finding out it was my first time with sweetbreads, the waitress said that I did a good job eating as much as I did. I’m not sure what that means, but I loved our waitress and she meant it as a compliment. This is the only dish of which I didn’t basically lick the plate clean. Apparently, sweetbreads have one of two tastes: citrusy, or nutty. These were nutty. So the dish was a play on a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, with the strawberry compote thing. Absolutely brilliant, if you ask me. And in hindsight, it did taste like a PB & J, albeit a very gourmet one.

Here, I decided it was time for one last wine pairing: the “2009 Trenel Moulin A Vent AOC, France.” It was red, and delicious.

Fifth Course: wood grilled local quail, roasted local broccoli, broccoli puree, bacon and currant relish.

If I had to pick one favorite, one to eat my weight in, one to desperately try to recreate at home, it would be this one. The glaze was some sort of honey-garlic-magic. I’ve never had quail before, but this made me want to grab a shotgun, hunt one down, and go to town on it again in the future. It was the best non-chicken poultry I’ve ever had. I wanted to gnaw on the bones, it was so good.

Sixth Course: wood smoked berkshire pork loin and slow roasted belly, creamed arugula and ramps, truffled ramp vinaigrette, hakeuri turnips.

You knew the pork was there somewhere, right? Mmm. Pork. It was perfect. Simply perfect. The acidity from the vinegar brought out flavors in the loin and pork belly that I didn’t know could exist in pork. Again, even though we were well into 6 courses, I ate all of mine except for a little bite of pork belly and some of Dave’s, as he decided to slow down to save room for dessert.

Dessert: chocolate bread pudding, frangelico bavarian, coffee ice cream, hazelnut-cocoa nib crumble.

Let’s just say, I was in heaven. The best coffee ice cream ever. The bread pudding was just warm enough to be comforting, not warm enough to fully melt the ice cream. If I have a heart attack eating something like pork belly & chocolate bread pudding for dessert, I think I’m okay with that.

BUT WAIT – there’s more. As she delivered the check and handed us our autographed, personalized menus, our waitress also gave us a little box that contained house-made truffles with a rum ginger filling. Bonus treat! What’s the word to describe those little morsels of happy? Sublime? No, already used that one. Crisp and creamy? Refreshing? Light and fluffy? They were incredible. As full as I was, I had to have one, immediately upon getting in the car. They were the perfect end to the perfect meal.

As if the food wasn’t tasty enough, the service was the best I’ve ever experienced, anywhere. People smiled at you and welcomed you, genuinely. The waitstaff was as enthusiastic about serving the food as I was eating it. Yes, our eating out budget for the next two months is pretty much spent. But, it was worth it. Well worth it. Save your pennies & go. And tell Chef Kevin I said hi.


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