The Farmhouse Revisited

I’ve always been a fan of Chef Michael Foust, owner of the Farmhouse. He’s involved in the community and always strives to support local farmers. After an outstanding dinner there last month, it occurred to me that I had not weighed in on the Farmhouse since it started serving dinner several years ago.The Farmhouse

We were there during Restaurant Week and, though the Farmhouse didn’t participate in the event, the restaurant was packed. I typically prefer to be in the front room where the bar is because of its charm and coziness. But we were a table of 8 and the bigger room was more conducive to the size of our group. Though it too has brick walls and old wood floors, I used to think it was void of character. Perhaps it was because every table was full, or maybe it was the paintings gracing the walls, but I certainly enjoyed sitting there that evening.

The blackboards in both rooms list the night’s specials, as well as the farmers who contribute ingredients to the menu. The night we were there I was happy to see a Brussels sprouts special with roasted root vegetables and blue cheese. It was hearty, healthy and delicious. My husband started with a vegan chili that he loved.

I moved onto the chicken and sausage gumbo served over a big portion of rice which really satisfied on such a cold night. It had a nice kick but I added more hot sauce to get the desired heat.Chicken and Okra Gumbo--The Farmhouse Roasted Brussels sprouts--The Farmhouse

Some at the table ordered and were delighted with the hangar steak topped with a blue cheese butter and salsa verde and served with awesome French fries, while others enjoyed  a potato crusted salmon with deviled aioli and charred Brussels sprouts.Potato crusted salmon--The Farmhouse

Desserts included a Jude’s rum cake with ice cream and bread pudding, both of which filled the belly.

Going to the Farmhouse is like putting on one of your favorite old sweaters; it’s not fancy but it sure feels good.Jude's rum cakes--The Farmhouse

 

Trezo Vino Wine Bistro

Trezo Vino in Park Place has a new menu that I recently had the opportunity to sample. We were treated to a five course dinner, which we enjoyed from start to finish, though some dishes definitely stood out.

We started with grilled muskmelon with fennel, arugula, feta, mint and balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve grilled watermelon and peaches, but never cantaloupe. It will definitely grace my grill this summer– the flavors, which I never would have thought to put together, complemented each other beautifully.

We asked to replace the beef carpaccio that was meant to be the second course with ahi tuna tacos. They were awesome. The crunch of the won ton taco stood in contrast to the soft pieces of tuna, wasabi crema and the jalapeno slaw. In a very clever move, mounds of guacamole on the platter held each taco in place, ready to be scooped on top, like a cherry on an ice cream sundae.

We then had a Formaggio Flatbread, with four cheeses on a crisp but chewy crust. Pleasant, full of cheese and dotted with oregano leaves, but not compelling.

Next up was risotto with cilantro and spring onion, topped with small chunks of seedless and skinless tomato, and grilled prawns.  The risotto was the only real disappointment of the evening–the heavy-handedness with the cream overwhelmed any flavors it may have had.

The main course was a salmon filet with a Yukon gold potato cake wrapped in bacon. A cider sauce with mustard vinaigrette was a little too mild for my palate, but the potato cake was excellent, and the bacon gave it a smokey flavor.

The evening was even more enjoyable because of our server, a personable and capable young man named Harper. Between courses we learned about his wife’s impending pregnancy and the variety of jobs he’s holding down to provide for his expanding family. (We asked, he didn’t lay it all on us). My husband and I were impressed with him, his story and his seriousness of purpose.  Just as important in this context,  he was a very fine waiter– he has been well-trained, which is, in my book, a mark of a good restaurant. I will certainly try to be placed in his station on our next visit.

I enjoyed the new menu, but I do miss some of the old favorites, most of which were small plates. I still remember the decadent scallops on French toast with truffle butter and a fig. It made my “Best of” list the year Trezo Vino opened. Perhaps Chef Daniel White will read this and consider putting it back on the menu!

The “To Share” section does still exist but the selection is smaller than it used to be when first conceived.  As I understand it, diners were confused by the small plate concept, preferring the traditional appetizer and entrée format. But I did notice that pastas and flat breads are offered in two sizes/prices, which gives the diner some flexibility in the quantity of food they order and the amount they spend.

I’ve always enjoyed Trezo Vino, and they certainly appear to be back on top of their game after a spell when the kitchen seemed to slip. (No, this was not an anonymous visit, but I’ve had other meals here that were on a par with this evening’s.) The restaurant is attractive, too, whether you choose to eat in the sophisticated dining room (love the blue glassware), the comfortable bar area, or the terrific outdoor patio.

Trezo Vino Wine Bistro on Urbanspoon

Central Michel Richard Washington DC

At the end of a long weekend of eating substantial meals in DC, my son and I were not up for another one. Yet we certainly wanted to enjoy another evening together and we had to eat, right? We had previously made a reservation for Central Michel Richard, and though it has its fair share of rich bistro fare, there are other paths a diner can follow, so we stuck with the plan.

The menu has a generous mix of appetizers and salads, as well as a very appealing list of sandwiches. We chose to split two burgers–one lobster, one tuna. And French fries, of course. Boy, did we do it right! The burgers were outstanding and just so fun to eat. Both were formed to exactly fit the homemade bun, and they were each topped with a fabulous potato tuile for additional texture.

The French fries were crisp and, naturally, the perfect accompaniment.

We also enjoyed, at our server’s suggestion an interesting and reasonably priced Napa cuvee from Tudal Family Vineyard. It was a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Sangiovese, not the usual suspects, and very tasty with our burgers.

This unexpected meal was the perfect ending to a lovely weekend.

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon

Westport Cafe and Bar

Westport Cafe and Bar is a new player on the Westport scene, but unlike most of its neighbors on the block, its emphasis is as much on the food as the drink. Blanc Burger’s orange and white motif is out– the space now has a distinct French cafe flair, with white subway tiles on the walls, Parisian fixtures and classic black and white floor tiles. Dark wood and mirrors complete the look.

The menu has been planned to complement the decor. Casual fare, something for everyone at any time of day. The choices are the same at lunch or dinner and range from salads and sandwiches to heartier bistro fare. The seared tuna nicoise was light and cooked to a satisfying medium rare.  The roasted beet, goat cheese and arugula salad was resplendent with fresh and incredibly sweet beets.  Hamburgers, steak sandwiches, green pea ravioli and even grilled octopus are other light options.

Steak frite, roast chicken, pasta champignons, slow cooked pork shoulder and roasted char round out the choices. The French fries don’t live up to their heritage (too bad Blanc Burger didn’t leave its recipe behind) but the steak was cooked exactly as ordered. The chicken was moist and flavorful and I liked having arugula salad on the plate to eat with it, in addition to some rather rich potatoes.

The only real disappointment was the competent but uninspired cheese plate. For a restaurant that encourages patrons to drop by for a glass of wine, that lapse was a bit of a surprise.

Don’t miss the profiteroles, whether or not you think you have room for dessert. The pastry is light, ice cream rather than custard fills the middle, and the drizzled dark chocolate sauce  is spoon-licking good.

When winter arrives, the owner explained to our table that he expects to expand the menu. Beef bourguignon, coq au vin and other traditional dishes are natural additions at that time of year.

Though there’s an emphasis on the food side of the equation, the owners haven’t ignored the drink side. They brought in Ryan Maybee, bartender extraordinaire, to devise the cocktail list and, while he works on a new home for his shuttered Manifesto bar, he can often be found mixing drinks here.

Westport Cafe and Bar is unlike most restaurants in Westport. It’s upscale, food-focused and though it can be loud when the restaurant is full, it is not trying to be party central.Though twenty-somethings may occupy the bar stools, the over-thirty crowd will certainly be drawn to the attractive, friendly ambiance and pleasant cuisine.

Westport Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

Five Bistro in St. Louis

Five Bistro is an anomaly. It’s in on the Hill, the cozy Italian section of St. Louis, yet it’s not an Italian restaurant. It does share a common trait with many of its Hill peers however, in that is family owned and operated, with a strong emphasis on service. Joe and Bonnie Devoti manage the front of the house: son Anthony is the executive chef. Though I didn’t meet Chef Anthony, his parents were charming, appropriately attentive , and they ran the restaurant as though it were a walk in the park. The service throughout the evening was impeccable. It’s not a stretch for me to suggest that the last time I may have had service of this quality was in a Danny Meyer restaurant, ironically a St. Louis boy who made good and is building a restaurant empire in New York City.

But man/woman cannot live on service alone, so let me assure you that the food was every bit as compelling. The menu changes daily depending on what the chef finds at market, so the ingredients in every dish scream “fresh” and the vegetables taste just picked. All meats and cheeses are locally sourced. Everything is homemade, including the outstanding foccacia, which was served with olive oil ( a bit like gilding a lily). And  the ravioli. The night I was there, the housemade pasta was stuffed with roasted beets, pecans, and local goat cheese, served atop mushroom and cauliflower puree. It looked rich, but was light and dreamy.

I chose the scallop entree, and though it was  pricey for the size (2 large scallops for $25), each of the scallops was sweet, succulent and perfectly prepared. The Chioggia beets, snap peas and squash that accompanied the scallops were crisp and bursting with flavor. The dish, served on watercress, was finished with a light champagne vinaigrette.

Other menu options included an appetizer tart with stilton bleu cheese, caramelized onion and tarragon with a balsamic reduction and micro greens, housemade charcuterie, a sprout salad with more of those sweet beets, beef tenderloin, a pork special, a half-chicken with gnocchi and rabbit.

Desserts are identified on the menu as a “sorbet tasting”, a “pastry tasting” and a “chocolate tasting”. The server described each one lovingly as he explained that though each has at least a couple of components, they aren’t too big to conquer. And conquer we did, sampling each of the evening’s chocolate desserts.  One was a kind of caramel nouget dipped in chocolate and served with homemade chocolate ice cream, the other  was a slice of flourless chocolate torte with homemade mint ice cream. Each was art on a plate.

The wine list is small (read:manageable),  incredibly well-conceived and fairly priced.

I was pleased with the size of  the portions, (it’s nice to have room for dessert) though they may not satisfy the hungriest appetite. To counter that possibility, there’s a 4 course option for $45 that’s hard to beat.

The restaurant is casual yet tastefully appointed, walk-ins are welcome and big parties can be accommodated. If you want a  quiet evening, ask for the front room. The back room is also lovely, but larger and more lively.

My only regret is that this gem is not in Kansas City. If it were, it would be my go-to place for a casual evening (for a glass of wine and an appetizer at the bar) or a special night out. Though it has received some well-deserved accolades, Five Bistro has largely flied under the radar. I can’t believe that will be the case for long.

Five on Urbanspoon

Ris–Washington D.C.

I go to DC periodically and enjoy hitting the trendy spots about town. On my last visit, I had delightful meals  at two bistros, Ris and Central Michel Richard.

Ris is in Foggy Bottom, right near Trader Joe’s and George Washington University. Chef Ris Lacoste is in the kitchen, for the first time in her own restaurant. The dining room is large and, depending on where you are seated, can be loud.  There’s nothing cozy about the place, but we had a nice table in the back where we received attentive and professional service.

The menu is modern American, and while you’ll see many dishes you recognize, Chef Lacoste has put her own spin on them.  We started with posole, which was chock full of tender chunks of pork and hominy, and topped with radish slices and sprouts. My favorite dish of the night, and in fact the entire trip, was her take on soft shelled crab. We were in DC during the height of that crustacean’s seasonal appearance, so I had it more than once and this rendition was sensational.  The crabs were small, so the plate featured two of them, on fava bean puree accompanied by a flavorful onion jam. It was so much more lively than the ubiquitous lemon butter theme, and the crab really popped in this setting.

Dinner spotlights other cuisines of the globe–a glistening lamb shank sat atop a creamy yogurt based sauce and was sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, while the thai salmon and soba noodles floated in a broth redolent of red curry.

The wine list was pricey, but hey, this is Washington, DC.

As is often the case, I found the choice of appetizers to be more inspired than the entrees. Next time around, I’ll try to grab a seat at the bar and try a few more.

Look for another post to follow shortly about Central.

Ris on Urbanspoon

Cafe Europa

I was delighted when Andy Atterbury and Gwyn Prentice took over Cafe Europa in the Crestwood shops last year. I love the location, and was excited to see what their chef Nathan Feldmiller would do with the menu. He had turned heads with Circe on 39th St., so I had high hopes.

The restaurant is off to a great start, and it may be the quintessential neighborhood cafe, but I don’t think it’s reached its potential. Since it’s crowded at all hours, I may be in the minority, but I’d like to see the menu reflect the same level of creativity that Feldmiller displayed at Circe. He’s shown flashes of it-carrot sauce and ginger relish on the roast salmon, for example, but most dishes are designed to satisfy not thrill. Comfort food is the thing here–Berkshire pork with farmer’s cheese mashed potatoes, duck with french lentils, roast chicken with mashed potatoes, scallops with risotto. These dishes are largely successful, as are the basic salads and sandwiches at lunch.  But here again, it would be fun to see him elevate his game. As at dinner, everything is well-executed, but the standout? Definitely the French fries. I really think these are the best in town, or at least in the top three. Perfectly crisp, skins on, not too thick not too thin. I have been known to devour a bowl as my meal!

The pizza is the thin variety–our Margherita had generous portion of basil and mozzarella. But be sure to ask for it well done so it’s a bit charred.  The bread is made in the same oven and is excellent. Buy a loaf to take home–Several varieties are sold every day in the front room bakery, along with cookies, pies and cupcakes.

I think Europa has brunch figured out–perfectly cooked eggs, french toast, pancakes, pork hash, and salads and burgers for those not wanting breakfast. Great coffee, too.

Europa has quickly established itself as a player on the restaurant scene, and Dan Weber, formerly at Lidia’s was recently hired to be the new GM. Now it’s time to let Feldmiller’s talents shine.

Oak 63 Bistro

My lunch at Oak 63 had a rather inauspicious beginning. I had heard how great the Reuben sandwich and French fries were, and I wanted to give them a try.  There was no Reuben to be found on the menu (at least the day I was in), and French fries were only available to those ordering a hamburger. I’m not a huge meat eater, and can only handle a hamburger every so often. I preferred to order the salmon BLT, so I had to forgo the fries, but my dining companion managed to talk the server into letting us at least sample a few. Literally. The three fries she brought were excellent, and I would have been very happy to eat an entire plateful.

I enjoyed the salmon BLT.  There was nothing extraordinary about it, but it was well executed and came with a broccoli slaw that nicely complemented the sandwich. In fact, that would seem to be the hallmark of the lunch menu. The selections may be simple, and not very exciting, but you can count on everything coming out of the kitchen being good.

We had a blueberry strawberry cobbler for dessert. They didn’t have any ice cream, instead offering cream, but the dish didn’t need embellishment. The fruit filling was nicely sweetened, and the cake-like topping was light and very satisfying.

Oak 63 on Urbanspoon