September 2, 2014
Mar 27, 2013
12:18 PM

Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Farmhouse Tavern

Farmhouse Tavern’s of-the-moment menu conjures farmhouse nostalgia (Image: Cheol Joon Baek)

Farmhouse Tavern harkens back to a time of pastoral pleasures... The farms, the fields, the sweet smell of clover... No matter that most of us never lived that life or that the restaurant’s mission, to use only that which is produced in Ontario, is cute but silly. One, because the environmental benefits of eating local are often exaggerated. Two, because in winter it so narrows the palette.

But the farmhouse ideology — expressed in ingredients, menu and ambiance — charms us, which explains the restaurant’s instant popularity. How cute to sit beside a stove from yesteryear, to see real barn doors and all those lovely Niagara wines on the blackboard. And tractor seats on the bar stools.

Of course the menu is of the moment: farmhouse nostalgia. It’s for the uber carnivore, heavy on pig and makes liberal use of the deep fryer.

The artistes in the open kitchen change the menu constantly, thus guaranteeing that they’ll never get bored, and nor will they master anything completely.

Hence one evening’s clever deconstruction of Caesar salad: Caesar salad soup is a very good onion broth topped with also splendid parmigiano foam and a big slice of deep-fried pig’s ear beside a coupla romaine leaves.

And the “fancy salad” of veg baked in ash in the backyard smoker (so today): it’s mostly white turnip with shaved radish and carrot in great sweet-tart vinaigrette.

A dozen more go-rounds with this salad and it would be great — minus the excess of white turnip, a veg whose position at the bottom of the vegetable food chain was just fine with me.

They’re extremely proud of the Greek-influenced lamb entrée, but even a fat-o-phile like me draws the line at pulled lamb neck formed into a terrine and deep-fried, with tzatziki on top. Lightly pickled cuke strands and baked beets cut the fat, but not enough. More judicious are two big, perfect ravioli stuffed with roasted Jerusalem artichoke jazzed with watercress and ricotta and topped with sweet, crisp chips of deep-fried shavings of Jerusalem artichoke (a.k.a. sunchoke).

Creativity is a funny thing: We worship it, we line up for it, these days we reserve three weeks in advance to eat it. But putting the brakes on is as important as the foot on the gas. The perils of the ever-changing menu are those of the excited driver who can’t find the brake pedal.

It took talent to make our salted-caramel ice cream, elegantly balanced on the edge between bitter caramel and sweet cream. But there’s a weird bite to it, and the “croutons” of apple cake went dry — maybe ’cause cake made small is vulnerable to drying out.

Make that thing seven times, ask your tasters about it, and you’ll go from good to great. Because repetition is judgment’s best friend.

Farmhouse Tavern, 1627 Dupont St. $80 Dinner for two

Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine, and she was the Globe and Mail’s restaurant critic for 38 years.

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