Sunday, November 27, 2011

Food I'm Eating: The Farmhouse Inn, Santa Rosa (November 26, 2011)

My son went to a friend's house today and ended up getting invited to stay the night. It seemed like a sudden opportunity for a rare night out for good food and wine with my wife. I called Terrapin Creek Café, in Bodega Bay, a restaurant I've enjoyed several times in the past, but no reservations were available--probably the result of its recent gaining of a Michelin star. I decided to try the Farmhouse Inn, another Michelin-starred restaurant in the area (technically, in Forestville), and was offered a table that someone had just cancelled. I've been to the Farmhouse Inn only once before--about eight years ago--and it was wonderful. I had high expectations. I decided to take along an old bottle of Burgundy from my cellar, a 1986 Vosne Romanée 1er Cru "Les Suchots" from Moillard.

I have to say I was disappointed. The meal generally was good. The service was good. But the food really should have been great--it should have been the sort of meal that keeps you saying "Wow!" to yourself as you eat. Isn't that what Michelin stars (and the prices that go with them) are all about? As it turned out, fairly ordinary appetizers and main courses--neither served quite as warm as I would have liked--were book-ended by what turned out to be the highlights of the meal--the amuse-gueule and the desserts. The former was a tiny cup of frothed "soup" made from jerusalem artichokes that had a wonderful earthiness enhanced by smoky bacon flavors. It was served with mushroom paste-garnished crostini. The desserts were wonderful, particularly a pumpkin cheesecake that somehow managed to taste like cheesecake and a good pumpkin pie at the same time. The coffee was excellent.

The wine, although 25 years old, was fresh and delicious--classic Burgundy. Wonderfully fragrant, it suggested violets, cumin, and celery seed, and it was nicely balanced on the palate between fruity sweetness and smooth, mature tannins. I will say that the wine server did an admirable job decanting the wine, which must have been challenging because the drive to the restaurant stirred up a deposit in the bottom of the bottle that had formed over decades. I bought the wine in Tokyo, probably around 1990.

We had the Grilled Mediterranean Octopus and House-smoked Duck Breast Salad for appetizers, the Roasted Breast of Guinea Hen and Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit for main dishes. The Octopus was tender and nicely seasoned, and I enjoyed the accents provided by tiny chunks of chorizo and the olive tapenade spread under the meat, but the duck salad was very disappointing. The duck slices were tiny and not very flavorful. The salad was mostly a pile of the same sort of greens I can pick any day from my own garden (frisée, arugula, and mizuna). The greens were fresh and in no way bad--but as a whole, the salad struck me as uninspired and uninspiring and somewhat skimpy (and I stress that I'm not a big eater).

The rabbit is called Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit because it's a trio of rabbit dishes in one--rabbit loin wrapped in bacon; a roasted, Frenched rib rack (looking like a miniature rack of lamb); and rabbit leg confit in a mustard sauce. The loin seemed the most successful of the three--the meat was tender and infused with bacon flavors--but the tiny ribs, although fun, were not very flavorful. The leg confit was mostly interesting for the whole-grain mustard sauce that was on it. The meat, however, seemed lacking in character. It had a washed-out flavor that reminded me of the disappointment of oysters shucked and washed so carefully that all the scent and flavor of the ocean is gone from them. The meat tasted somehow sanitized (although I don't mean to suggest anything unwholesome). The food was simply not as good as it seems it should have been given the prices and the reputation of The Farmhouse Inn. Game should be gamey. This was not. I felt much the same way about the guinea hen. Good enough, but not exciting.

Finally, I have to say that $35 for corkage is well over the line between reasonable and excessive.

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