I have had a habit recently of delaying my reviews way beyond what they should be. I guess all writers experience these droughts and if I were really smart I would continue this pace of delayed sharing when it comes to the dinner that four of us had on Friday night of this 2011 Memorial Day Weekend. We dined at the very recently opened The Farm and Fisherman at 11th and Pine Streets in center city Philadelphia. Anyone reading this would be doing yourself a huge favor if you stopped now and made your reservation prior to what I am about to write. The reason I make that suggestion is because The Farm and Fisherman is an undiscovered gem on the Philly restaurant scene. This 30 seat culinary temple is the creation of Josh Lawler and his wife, Colleen.
Josh and Colleen have spent the last 10 years in New York with Josh doing the honors as Chef de Cuisine at the highly acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns which Food and Wine Magazine declared “One of 10 Life-Changing Restaurants”. Colleen runs the front of the house and she is an accomplished chef herself having a culinary degree from Drexel University and experience at many New York restaurants including BLT Market at the Ritz-Carlton and Picholine. They have returned to their home town to fulfill their dream of having their own restaurant.
We arrived for our 7:30 reservation and I have to confess to a certain amount of pre-dinner apprehension. I had studied the menu in the days leading up to our dinner and I wasn’t totally convinced this was going to be my kind of place. Chef Lawler’s committment to farm fresh food and local ingredients had some items listed that weren’t exactly encouraging to a “meat and potatoes” guy like myself. The Farm and Fisherman features a three course menu with four items available under each course. That’s a total of 12 offerings and the four of us managed to damn near try them all. Here is how we started.
I began with the Bloody Beet Steak, yogurt, shallots, pan drippings, bull’s blood. My wife, Kathy, was slightly shocked that I would order beets but I decided as long as I was here I would be open to the adventure. The dish was outstanding and the flavor of the beets mixed with the yogurt and the drippings made for a delicious start to my meal. I tried to tell the others how good my selection was but I couldn’t get them to listen because they were too busy being effusive over how good their first course was.
Kathy and Carol had chosen the Bucks County Head Lettuce, fromage blanc, pistachios and spring vegetables. They raved about how good their salad was and I actually heard Carol say between bites “maybe the best salad I have ever eaten”. There was no question we were off to a good start with our meal.
Joe had selected the Jumbo Asparagus, mache, apricots, chive blossom and green garlic sauce. I wish I had taken a picture of his plate when he was done because there wasn’t the slightest indication that anything had been on this clean, white plate. It was solid testimony to the fact that he LOVED his dish. He let each of us sample a portion and it really was great. Carol even though it MAY have been better than the salad she had just declared “the best she had ever eaten”.
Carol next selected the Chilled Carrot Soup, angelica, local ginger and buttermilk. She was making little noises indicating she was enjoying something really special. I was wondering what could be THAT good about a chilled carrot soup but when I tasted a sample spoonful I could see that Chef Lawler had worked some special magic on this offering. Maybe it was the buttermilk?
Kathy had the Jennings Farm Egg and Oxtails, whole wheat toast, asparagus and pickles. You would have had to twist my arm to get me to order that one but she declared it wonderful. I can’t get past eggs as simply a breakfast meal so I am missing out on a lot of the trend in haute cuisine.
Anyway, I had no time to dwell on an egg that I wasn’t having because my Barnegate Light Scallops, Hakurei turnips, wild spinach and green tomato sauce was sitting perfectly plated and prepared in front of me. Great flavor combinations and just the right seasoning made this plate a special treat. By now, all of our fears had dissipated and we were just enjoying something really special.
I should add that the meal began with a piping hot Parker House roll with just the right hint of salt in the warm crust and some excellent house butter that just melts beautifully into the warm bread. We each asked for and received another roll during our meal. The Farm and Fisherman does not rush their course one after another. You have ample time to enjoy your wines and engage in conversation. We were there for two and a half hours and Colleen was engaging and conversing with each table. I haven’t mentioned our wines for the evening.
Both Joe and I must have been thinking along the same lines that the food appeared to be a bit lighter than the steaks and chops that would require a cabernet as we both brought Pinot Noirs. Joe’s was the 2009 Belle Glos, “Meoimi”. Pinot Noir. This is a blend of Pinot Noir grapes from Sonoma, Monterrey and Santa Barbara Counties and offered sweet cherries and blackberry notes with floral tones. It was a nice easy drinking wine.
Much the same could be said for my 2008 Evening Lands, Seven Springs, Pinot Noir. Light strawberry and lavender flavors offered a nice accompaniment to all of our dishes.
Kathy and Carol each ordered the Shady Brook Farms Organic Chicken, asparagus, turnip-raisin puree, spring onions. Hey, who else is doing a turnip-raisin puree?? The women thought the chicken was perfectly prepared and were both happy with their selections.
Joe had the Livengood’s Farm Lamb, Spring pasta salad, asparagus, currants and pine nuts. The pasta salad was a unique presentation, the lamb was perfect medium and Joe was totally happy with the entire dish.
I had considered the chicken, as I almost always do, but went with the Braised Berkshire Pork Cheeks, farmer’s cheese spaetzle, bok choi and wild garlic mustard. The pork cheeks were incredibly tender, the spaetzle a perfect marriage with the meat and the sauce just made this entire dish something truly remarkable. For me, this was the perfect ending to a great dinner.
We ordered two desserts to share. On the left is strawberries and creme fraiche in a puff pastry sandwich. This was possibly the only thing resembling a miss the entire evening. It was fresh and looked beautiful but there wasn’t a lot of taste in this one. The other dessert, a panna cotta with berries and glazed sugar crumbles, was mush more flavorful and we all enjoyed that one.
What a wonderful evening of great food and comfort. The Farm and Fisherman changes their menu slightly each evening and probably dramatically as the seasons change and Josh and Colleen take advantage of what is currently available from local farmers. My only fear is that this place will soon be discovered by the true “foodies” in the Philly area and reservations will be hard to come by. I strongly suggest you make yours NOW.