Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The hits and the misses.

There's a downside to learning to cook great food at home: most restaurants just don't do it as well as I can.

This isn't a conceit - it's the truth. I get to focus on two or four plates, not an entire restaurant. I can tailor the flavors to my own palate, the nutrition to my own needs and the level of execution to my own standards. This isn't to say I'm rigid in what I like and dislike - on the contrary. Those who know me know there aren't many flavors or foods I won't eat. When I give it real thought, it's a short list, and based on experiences I can pinpoint:

  • Yuzu and lemon together - an unfortunate tart at a restaurant in Denver

  • Duck confit - overly-greasy at a school in Kansas

  • Torchon of foie gras - a much-too-large portion at a bar in KC

  • Baby corn - general disappointment each time it appears

Even those examples aren't deal-breakers for me. My rule is, if I don't like something, I need to try it prepared by a chef I trust. If I still don't like it, I don't like it, but I gave it the best effort. I learned to love Brussels Sprouts because of a dish at Room 39. I crave beets thanks to a preparation at Rioja in Denver. Both of these items were on my short list before I had them prepared in the right way. Who knows, there might be a right way to prepare baby corn. I doubt it, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

I digress. The downside to learning to cook at home. It's like learning to knit. Now that I can, and I know how simple it is, I can't get myself to pay $40 for a cowl at the GAP. I will, however, spend $30 on yarn and make the cowl myself, with improvements. Same with cooking - spending money on a meal that I know I can do better at home is just aggravating. So I seek out places that hopefully can do things better or, at the very least, inspire me to do something new in my own kitchen.

Such was the mindset as we made reservations at The Farmhouse last Saturday. We'd never been, but the reviews were positive and the menu looked very good. Unfortunately, our experience didn't meet our expectations.

The Farmhouse is located in the River Market area at 3rd and Deleware. The restaurant space is quite nice - it has that rustic upscale feel that's been popular for a while, with dark hardwoods and antique furniture alongside bright artwork and twinkling lights. The feel is romantic and cozy, and we were charmed. I especially liked the chalkboard towards the back of the main dining room which listed the sources for all of the ingredients used in their dishes. A very nice touch indeed.

It wasn't easy making dinner choices - everything sounded so delicious in the menu. We each ordered a different salad, but chose the same entree, and split dessert.

The salads were just okay. The ingredients were fresh, and both had high points - a perfectly fried slice of goat cheese on mine, and some beautiful polenta croutons on his. But they both had lackluster dressing with little flavor and too much oil. They were overdressed to the point that the oil flavor masked the fresh, local vegetables the restaurant is so proud of.

Our entrees were sort of a disaster. We both ordered a chicken roulade dish with smoked mushroom duxelle, sweet potato puree and arugula.  The presentation was lovely - the chicken was browned and crisp on the outside, the puree was smooth and creamy, the arugula was bright and fresh. The first couple of bites were very good. But then things went south. Neither of us could cut through the center of our chicken - they were completely raw in the center. At about this point, the smokiness of the mushrooms became overwhelming, then intrusive and ultimately boring. We ate about 75% of the dish (the cooked part) and informed our server that the rest of our chicken was raw. We didn't want replacement meals, and asked that he simply inform the chef so that future diners didn't suffer such a dining fate.

Not completely satiated from our entrees, we opted finally for a slice of pecan pie for dessert. Again, nothing special. My molasses pecan pie is much better, and Pillsbury crust is flakier and had more flavor. We both agreed that our meal at The Farmhouse was less than stellar, but we also agreed that some of that is due to our own culinary skills at home.

Some good things did come out of the meal. We'll be making polenta croutons soon, and will also be adding some thinly sliced pear to our salads on occasion. The biggest revelation, though, is the chicken roulade. After some discussion, we decided that we can perfect this dish by tightly vacuum-sealing the chicken roulades, and cooking them sous vide until done. Then a quick sear in a hot skillet to finish. This will guarantee tender, perfectly formed, perfectly cooked roulades. I'll let you know how that works, when we try it.

The Takeaway: The Farmhouse (http://www.eatatthefarmhouse.com/) just didn't rise up to our admittedly high standards. Overdressed salads, raw chicken, lackluster pie - nothing was outstanding. However, their commitment to locally sourced ingredients is commendable. This may make a good brunch spot, but someone else will have to fill me in as we won't be returning any time soon.

The Farmhouse
300 Delaware Street
Kansas City, MO


  1. Pretty much identical to our experience at Farmhouse....I didn't dislike anything, the dedication to locally sourced products is worthy of respect AND we think it will make a great brunch spot...but as far as the local/seasonal/farm to table/etc, etc, etc, KC scene, there are the places that immediately make it into our rotation..and everyplace else.

    You found too big of a torchon? I guess if you couldn't fit the leftovers through your car door it MIGHT be too much....lol.

  2. I never thought I could have too much fois, but seriously, the thing was the size of a tub of Country Crock.