The Farm Cafe has been open in a little house just south of Burnside on 7th street for at least 3 years now, but likely closer to 4. I have been a regular, if infrequent customer since their early days, and I have recommended them numerous times both in print and in person. This does not mean that I have had a satisfactory experience each time I have visited. In light of my published tirade hating on a restaurant that served me palatable food in a friendly, quick and professional manner, I have been reviewing this dichotomy with great interest recently (read: staring at my literary belly-button) This post is an exegesis on how I made, and continue to make, these arbitrary decisions–why do I continue to go to the Farm, despite some rather unfortunate experiences, while I plaintively deride a restaurant not for what it served me or how, but for some affront to my culinary ethos/expectations?
There is no easy answer, but it concerns what I want out of a restaurant. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) I have never put fingers to keys to actually formulate coherent, logical systems for my opinining about restaurants–in the early days this was a column I dumped out between my 4th and 5th cups of coffee every Friday morning right before deadline. I rarely, if ever, remembered what I’d written by the time the paper was released four days later. My columns were constrained by the forces of print journalism–space, and editors. The aforelinked column contains the word ‘fuck’ 17 or 18 times, but arrived in print form with 1 or 2. I was also capped at around 300 words.
In the endless and expansive blogosphere, length, word choice and content quality are standards unheeded or unbeknownst to the average blogger. I am not immune–the word count of posts created for the blog are 60-75% higher than what went into the Quest. I bring this up because when constrained by editors and spacial considerations, I largely kept the lid on the boiling oil of criticism that I had for many of the places I reviewed and subjects I covered. Here, however, way-over-the-top exhibitions of self-righteous criticism go unchecked out into the murky abyss of the internets. My bad.
So allow me to redress some of my criticisms of Vindalho by reviewing the Farm, and dutifully pointing out the differences between the two. Perhaps at the end I’ll have a coherent raison d’etre for my methods and madness. Or not.
The Farm is in a small bungalow near Burnside on 7th street. The building is, in many ways, the antithesis of the Vindalho space, which is not to say the Farm is underdesigned or scrappy, or any of the antithetical adjectives that come to mind. The Farm is crowded, but the large windows and tall ceilings keep the claustrophobes comfortable. The lighting is muted, the curtains eclectic from room to room, the woods dark and the walls tasteful shades of merlot. The tables are packed tightly together, but the floorplan of small rooms keeps the noise level down and the ‘sardine’ feelings minimal.
Vindalho, on the other hand, is a large, custom designed box in a strip mall–no attempt is made to prevent the cacophony, in fact the open kitchen is the center of the space, sending the loud, bright and frenetic pace of the kitchen spilling into every table’s conversation. With nothing effectively dividing up the dining space, the tightly packed tables make me feel like I’m not there to eat, I’m renting the space.
conclusion–I like restaurants that try to work themselves into existing reality–the Farm fits into a tiny bungalow, barely, while Vindalho made a sardine can out of a box.
The farm has a very small menu, daily specials, a superb and amazingly well priced wine list and a selection of esoteric sounding (but often tasty) mixed drinks. Vindalho also keeps the menu small, the specials, special–our waiter managed to get out very descriptive monologues about each special, its ingredients and careful preparation– and the wine/beer list wasn’t bad ($4 a pint) but with significant numbers of side dishes and chutneys for which they charge high prices for small portions.
conclusion–the restaurant business is a game of nickels and dimes, maximizing your efficiency and minimizing loss. I know that. When judging this restaurant head to head the price points are similar, but the Vindalho seems uncomfortable with its margins. There is an air of frugality in charging 2 dollars for chutneys that are as complimentary as ketchup at high end Indian restaurants. I really, truly and honestly do not blink at expensive food. But I would rather see an appropriate price point on the menu than be nickel and dimed on the extras that round out the meal. Especially considering there is an Amuse bouche of house-made poppadum and date chutney. It just doesn’t compute for me.
the Farm doesn’t try to frame their food–it’s simple, straight forward ‘northwest cuisine’ utilizing French techniques and classical preparations. A vast majority of the dishes I have had are fantastic constructions, melding flavors, presentations and the best in ingredients into a part on a plate. They do not have a good handle on the salt shaker–on one occasion my food was bland, another nearly inedibly salty. The most widely variant aspect of Farm’s food is the care in presentation–sometimes plates come out that look like they’ve received the IHOP treatment, others are tall, composed and beautiful. Another disappointing aspect is though they have revolving daily specials, there are items on the menu that suffer from clearly out of season ingredients–specifically the beet salad.
VIndalho offers cuisine inspired by the spice route. Claiming roots in all corners and culture of the Indian sub-continent.
*warning, geek rant*
South East Asia and the Indian subcontinent are the native sources of the most influential and widespread spices and herbs in the world. Garlic, Ginger, Coriander and chile peppers spread from these parts across the world–historical linguists prove this, or at least tell a good story, by tracing the etymology of spice names all the way back to proto-austronesian. That’s right, proto-motherfucking-austronesian. We’re talking at least 10,000 years worth of language development and change here.
*end geek rant*
I bring this up only because I wish to point out the long, successful and flavorful relationship the business end of the Spice Route has with their spices. IF a restaurant wishes to make grand statements about ‘modern interpretations of Indian cuisine’ I expect them to smack me across the face with said spices., not demonstrate a guarded hand, muting flavors and concentrating on balance. I can’t help it. It’s a travesty. Indian words, techniques and dishes drip off the menu, but it just ain’t Indian food. It’s too bad. This is not to say the food I had was awful. It wasn’t. It was just boring. I can’t even pick an interesting descriptor for it. boring food gets boring prose, I guess.
–conclusion: whatever Vindalho is trying to sell, I”m just not buying it. The Farm could use some better consistency, a wine steward and a measured hand with a salt shaker, but the Farm tries to do what it does. No grand statements of purpose, no long bibliographies, no market research or obvious affectations of design firms. It’s just a restaurant making honest food.
well, I guess I’ll make a list. I like restaurants that are humble. Talk through your plates, not about them. As I said, the restaurant business is about nickels and dimes; if you can push out food and keep people happy you’ve done something amazing–anything beyond that is overkill.