Individual food experiences are what make the world of eating so intriguing. Every person tastes and feels something different. Your emotions can carry over from work, a hunger from not yet eating in the day can be clawing in your stomach, the nerves of a first date or surprise birthday party, the excitement of a promotion…all those things can come into your mind while dining out. For me, this was one of those nights where everything is setting up for success. Even before making my reservation, I was really excited about my first visit. From the pictures of the wood oven to the stories my friends shared, I really wanted to enjoy Woodwork.
Arriving on a cold weekday evening, we had to wait a few minutes to be seated as customers were paying their bills. I’m not sure why Woodwork decided to place the point of purchase machines at the front door like this, but it certainly makes for a slightly awkward situation in the tiny space. It’s too close in my opinion to the first table of diners and it jams up the front entrance. Eventually the bills were paid and we were taken to our seats. Most of the seating is located on one side of the restaurant (long collection of two tops) with a couple of larger tables sandwiched between the bar and the kitchen (opposite the two tops).
Next to the beautiful smell of fire, the first thing we noticed was the cold air. Woodwork is not designed for cold weather. It just isn’t. Sure there is that fire in the kitchen but just steps away, the hot air does little. Everyone we spoke with (customers not staff) did not have positive things to say about the cold environment at Woodwork. I can’t blame them. The table beside us even asked to move, but the staff said that it wasn’t possible to reposition them. Who wants to go out for a nice/romantic dinner and be freezing?
Braving the cold conditions we put in our order and hoped that the food would stoke our inner fires. First up was the Select Woodwork Charcuterie plate. Arriving with little pizzazz, our server walked away without explaining anything, only to realize her mistake and come back. We had three types of cold meats, along with two spreads and some house made pickles spears. We asked about whether any bread (or cheese) would be available to accompany things and were told the chefs looked up the definition of charcuterie and it means ‘meat board’, so if we wanted bread we could buy some house-made rye for $7. I won’t get into the erroneous definition, but will let you know the plate was average. It lacked the punch I’ve come to expect from a good board and would certainly be improved with additional vessels for intake.
Our mains, Hanger Steak & Cornish Hen, quickly arrived to the table along with our side selection of Bar-B-Cue Farm Vegetable. The vegetable changes regularly and on this day it was a ‘holy-moley’ deep fried potato. Placing a whole potato in a deep fryer without some way for steam to escape just seems like a bad idea. So the ingenious solution of punching big holes in the dish gave it a fun factor. The potato was crispy and delicious. It reminded me of ranch potato chips.
My hanger steak was the real disappointment for the night. 90% of the French fries were shorter than one inch, making my inner Zoolander monologue want to scream, “Are these French fries for ants?!?” I needed a spoon to eat them, not a fork. Eventually I just gave up. I had to ask how my steak would be prepared as nothing was described or offered when I ordered. I was told the beef was sous-vided before getting a sear in the fire. Arriving with a slice of herbed butter, the beef wasn’t very good. Way tougher than expected; there was also no colour present other than varying shades of brown. I gave up on it. I can’t remember the last time I did this. Also, my personal preference for butter on steaks is that we don’t need it. Even more so with a hanger steak that naturally has great beef flavour. As Harvey’s would say, meat + fire = good.
The Cornish Hen was the highlight of the night. Perfectly cooked, the bird was juicy, had crispy skin, and was gobbled up very quickly. Who needs a dry turkey on Christmas, just order 50 of these to share! Well played Woodwork. Unfortunately, the pearl barley risotto couldn’t compete with the Cornish hen and left something to be desired.
With a good portion of my meal left uneaten, the staff eventually sent out the manager to ask for my feedback. I’m never one to shy away from these discussions, but when the seating is close enough to hear every detail; it certainly makes for an unfortunate show as everyone loves to lean in and hear conversations like this. I let the staff know I was simply providing some honest feedback and did not expect anything in return. Our server returned shortly after and informed us the steak was removed from the bill. Again, I mentioned there was no need for this action but I appreciated the thought.
From the freezing cold space, which creates the wrong atmosphere for a nice meal, to the almost forgettable food offerings, Woodwork doesn’t have me itching to return. At the end of the day, I had a bad dish in a cold restaurant. None of those things get me warm and fuzzy. Will I go back, of course I will. Part of what makes our food scene so great is the growing number of options that keep popping up. In the case of Woodwork, I’m going to give it 7 or 8 months until the outside temperatures aren’t as cold and the kitchen has more prep time under their belt.
**After publishing my post this week, I received some direct feedback from others who have also dined at Woodwork. One in particular has allowed me to post their thoughts;
If we are just talking about the food and drinks alone then I’d say Woodwork pretty good based on the meal we had. Is it well priced? No. Is the food forgettable? Kind of, but it didn’t have to be.
What WAS memorable was the lackluster performance of their staff and the cramped layout of the joint. I had made a reservation 10 days before we went there and they gave us the worst seat in the house. After that, they proceeded to serve the table next to us who arrived 20 minutes after we did just because they were friends with some of the staff members. The list goes on, but what really broke this place for me was when I approached our waitress about the door situation.
After we received the bill I let her know that we had to put our jackets on just to finish the meal and I felt like that was unfair. I said nothing of the fact that she saw this happening and did nothing about it. (I’m sorry but when you notice -25 degree winds gushing in every 5 – 10 minutes and you don’t offer us a free coffee, even as a joke to cut the tension, then ya, don’t expect us to be impressed.) Her response to me was that I should have told her we wanted to move and “not to be so bashful next time!”
I explained to her that the restaurant was full and because of this we weren’t able to relocate; I just wanted them to know that their set up was terrible, especially when you consider the weather. She ran to her manager and told him about my complaint which was followed up with the staff standing in a circle, talking about what had happened and looking at us. The manager came over after their huddle; he explained that the door has been complained about several times and gave us a $10 discount.
I almost never complain about service in restaurants because I know it’s a hard and thankless job but for some reason this place just bugged me. All of their hiccups seemed so unnecessary that it came across as a whole bunch of brutal oversights on their part. Sure, new restaurants have to work out their kinks but I feel like Woodwork needs an attitude adjustment.