Thursday, June 16, 2011

Steampunk Style! Steamtable Flavor? The Farmer's Cabinet in Pictures

Looking for a place to hold a Steampunk Fourth of July Party in Philadelphia? 

Must have:

Diverse beer list to impress all your aficionado friends? Covered...don't miss the beers from Denmark and Italy can outshine the Belgian and German stunners.

Top-notch offerings from the bar? The drinks are extensive and meticulously crafted...enough to sway an ardent beer hound over to the other side of the menu.

Atmosphere and character...Live Music? Lit almost entirely by natural sources like candles and kerosene lamps, The Farmer's Cabinet evokes all the grit of a turn-of-the-century hunting lodge and the charm of the majestic railway hotels along the Continental Divide...with period-appropriate live music to boot. Subdued lighting, apothecary jars galore and animals mounted on the National Mechanics but without the chiptunes.

Great Food? Certainly.   I've been dawdling on writing this post up because I really love what the Farmer's Cabinet is doing and I felt like being critical of just one aspect would be unfair to a place that I enjoy frequenting, but when the LaBan one-bell review hit the phood-o-sphere I figured that dredging up some of the dishes E and I have eaten there over the last 3 months would provide some decent quality pictures and opinion around what I thought was a pretty accurate review.

Overall we really liked the variety of ingredients splashed about the menu, which seemed in line with the larger feel of the place. But it was a general lack of seasoning and some misfired concepts that would caution me recommending the food. The cheese, charcuterie and baked goods were delicious though, so there's no fear of going hungry while you enjoy all those great drinks.

The Good

Apricot Bread w/ lard 'butter' and seasonal jam
Nice way to welcome the diner...the bread was fresh baked...the spreads of lard 'butter' and jam was rich and pleasantly sweet. The jams changed between the dinners we ate but they were always delicious and chunky.

Buffalo Short Rib w/ Sunchoke puree and Horseradish Scallion salad
Our dining partners seemed to naturally gravitate towards the tastier dishes on the menu...this short rib was perfectly cooked but the horseradish scallion slaw was what had me begging for another shared bite.

Ground Short Rib Burger w/ Cheddar & Bacon Jam
Another selection by one of our didn't overwhealm him by any means but compared to some of the other oddities that were arriving on the table, I took his relative silence on the dish to mean that it was a tasty burger that went well with the Belgians that we were washing our dinner down with.

Peekytoe Crab Roll
A really delicate preparation, not overly seasoned so the crab flavors came through. In general most of the dishes we tried at Farmer's Cabinet suffered from a lack of seasoning...a serious lack of basics like salt was noticeable several times...but for this dish the restraint worked.

Pretzel with Smoked Beer Mustard
HERE'S where all the salt went! I wish it was just a joke but we found ourselves pinching off salt from the pretzel and sprinkling it over a few dishes to bring up the flavor volume. The mustard was so-so but the pretzel was delicious. I'm starting to see a pattern emerge...some baked goods, like the cheese and charcuterie, seem to really hit the mark here.

The Bad

Pea Tendril Salad
When eating with your eyes...the presentation was just so rough on this that I'd swear it made the salad taste worse than it really was.

Pan-Fried Oysters w/ Sweet & Sour Cucumbers, Curry Aioli  and Trout Roe
This looked great on paper but was a sloppy, soggy mess on the plate. The oysters lost all their crusty, molten unction when bathed in so much felt like they had sat out or been cooked in oil that was not hot enough, although the trout roe was a great idea. Why? it was the only hint of salt that we could detect in the dish.

Cast-Iron Tomato Tart
LaBan mentioned the Tart as a highlight and to be fair we tried this early on in it's existence when it was still a tomato tart, but the problem was not the filling but the crust of the tart itself - dry, tough and lacking seasoning. Although the flash of the camera tends to was everything out, the crust really was very white and had none of the flavor you would expect...butter, salt, herbs, or even a spritz of olive oil. 

Bourbon Braised Escargot
This was just a big pot of awful. Along with the soggy oysters, I chuckled when LaBan mentioned that his escargot were "doused in something so vividly bitter we pretty much couldn't eat it".  Ditto. Although he neglected to mention the Werther's Original Caramel Candy taste that followed the bitterness

Duck Egg in a Jar - Shirred egg with Black Trumpet Mushrooms
This dish could have been really good but it suffered from poor execution - it sat too long in the steambath that I'm guessing it was cooked in. The yolk was hard and the double-cream & egg surrounding dried to a pectin-like glue....although the flavors of mushroom, possibly spiked with truffle oil, were present.

The Dish-No-Longer-Appearing-In-This-Restaurant

Fried Lamb Kidneys & Sweet Potato Biscuit w/ Spicy Greens
Seeing this on the menu re-awakened Ansill's offal stirrings in our heart but it was nowhere near the same level.  Lacking salt in the greens, the kidneys were barely fried, tasting like they had seen a saute pan for barely a moment, and the biscuit was a severe letdown (not as bad as the hardtack that we experienced at Adsum though - Southern Science: Adsum...)

Also no  longer available...Cheesecake in the Men's Room
Last time I was here I noticed that the pin-up art was no longer gracing the men's room wall..don't know if this was a Beer Week re-decoration or something more permanent. 

The Dish They Need to Bring Back

We did have a great dish at the Hitacho Nest Beer Brunch that would qualify for dessert. The picture is lost somewhere on my phone though.

Described as an Okinawan Pancake, imagine a golf-ball sized nugget of sweet, muffin-like dough deep fried so that it was crispy on the outside but custardy-soft and warm in the center with a buttery corn meal batter flavor. They need to put that on the menu

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