Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: The Farmer's Cabinet

Wood, barrels, slate, candles, more wood, jars, stuffed animal heads, benches. Darkness. Walking into The Farmer's Cabinet is almost like entering some kind of pre-industrial dining hall. You check your wallet and find only credit cards – will they even accept these, or are they expecting me to pay for my meal via bartering a gaggle of geese or a fine pelt or two?

For all its rustic charm, the Cabinet is modern in one way: with a beer list that is seriously impressive, verging on baffling. I honestly don't know how many drafts and bottles they have available, but I do know that I have maybe heard of about one in 20 of them before. Lots of beers from Italy, from Denmark, from countries you didn't even know made beer – where and how do they even get it? So if you're into beer, study the menu hard before you come, or have faith in either the recommendations of your server or Lady Luck that you'll find suds that tickle your fancy.

On our visit, seated at the long communal table that dominates the main dining area, we had a Scottish ale called Cock of the Walk (the current firkin offering) while contemplating our dining choices. Very similar to a Jose Garces restaurant, the Cabinet's menu is broken down into traditional appetizers/small plates, shared apps "for the table", some salads, cheeses and charcuterie, traditional mains, and some family-style options. Though there are a few veggie options among the main dishes, meat, and especially game, dominates the menu.

First, we had the fried sweetbreads with tuna crudo and caper aioli, a dish that evoked some sort of mayonnaise-sauced tuna sushi roll once you got past the tasty, tender fried sweetbreads. A somewhat exotic combination that worked well, although it probably didn't need the huge volume of aioli that streaked the plate. A cheese fondue was creamy and delicious, with a slight bitter edge.

The house-made charcuterie was hit-and-miss. The duck ham was pretty magnificent, supple and smokey, but the "lamb prosciutto" was rather more salty and gamey than I would have liked, and it was served not thinly sliced but practically hacked into chunky slabs.

Although they were planning on trying some of the sandwiches, our dining companions could not resist the "what's he having?" lure of the Flintstones-sized buffalo short rib that was set down at the party next to us, so they both ordered it as their mains. Topped with shredded horseradish and set on a copious mound of sunchoke puree, the meat was somewhat unremarkable in flavor, but one of our servers was good enough to wrap up the spent bones for our friends to take home to their dog.

I had the rabbit, which was served two ways: braised (giant) leg portions served over a Greek yogurt-enriched polenta with cherries, and a spice-rubbed loin served over a white chocolate and carrot puree. Though the leg meat was ample and tasty, the dish was not without its flaws: the loin was a bit tough; the carrot/white chocolate sauce was a bit too sweet; and the whole dish really could have been served hotter. Lauren's skate entree had similarly disappointing elements, with the floury taste of the dredging standing out too much against the flavor of the fish, and the green tomato "frites" not having a great deal of flavor.

Desserts were pretty decent: the highlight of the apple crisp was the home-made ice cream served on top of it (they thoughtfully brought more of it out beyond the original small amount that came with the giant crisp), and spiked cherries and chantilly cream lightened up a whiskey sour cake. Service was very capable and not at all rushed despite a packed house.

The Farmer's Cabinet is no doubt a welcome addition to Walnut Street, particularly when it comes to the drinking scene (I didn't even get into the cocktails), but my impression is that food-wise, the main courses don't offer anything worth coming back for. I'd love to make this a regular place for some interesting beer and perhaps a few apps, but the entrees seem to be a case of the executions not living up to the concepts. I would almost like to see the purees and sauces and smashes toned down a bit, perhaps honoring the rustic conceit more by really developing flavors in the source ingredients and making them shine more on their own.

Farmers' Cabinet on Urbanspoon

No comments: