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Off to the Farmhaus, Saint Louis

We headed to Saint Louis for a weekend trip recently.  While in transit via Southwest Airlines, I had a few minutes to peruse the July issue of Food & Wine magazine.  Low and behold there was an article featuring their top chefs for 2011.  And one of them, Kevin Willmann, has a restaurant called Farmhaus not all that far from downtown Saint Louis.  I couldn’t let this opportunity pass, so I immediately made an 8:15pm Saturday reservation for four.

Shortly after the reservation, we posted our intent to go on Facebook.  Almost immediately, a farmer (and friend of our hosts for the weekend) wrote to say that he supplies the restaurant with their blackberries. Another friend wrote saying “Save room for dessert.”  Between the magazine article and their posts I was looking forward to a delightful evening.  Missing a turn, we arrived shortly after our reservation to a bustling, but cozy space with clean lines, an attentive waitstaff, and to my delight no blaring music.  We settled in and began looking at our menus with the urge to order one of everything.  Enjoying our beverages, our waiter let us know that the plates would come out from the kitchen as they were ready and they were meant to be shared.  In other words, what was to come from the kitchen would not be timed.

I’m not sure if it was audible to anyone else, but I heard myself say, “oi”.  Unless it is a Tapas bar, I find this restaurant format rarely works.  Either the portions are really too small to share or they are constructed in such a way that it makes it very difficult to divide without conquering, i.e. destroying.

Given this new revelation of sharing, we decided to each order a first course,  one of which was the “Summer Salad”.  It arrived in a mason jar on top of which was a hefty portion of Baetje Farm’s [1] goat cheese.   At the table our waiter poured the contents onto a rectangular plate; a whimsical presentation for sure.  The jar was filled with grilled okra, yellow wax beans, grilled local corn, heirloom tomatoes, grilled torpedo onions, roasted carrots, shaved fennel, cucumber, thyme; all tossed with a sweet Moscat vin (“vin” equals their term for ‘vinaigrette’) and served with house made lavash. $11.

Then there were the Nachos, which were house made chips from local sweet potatoes, Salemville blue cheese, cherrywood smoked bacon lardons, and fire-roasted red pepper catsup, $8.  Unfortunately, they weren’t anything about which to write home.  I did however, twist Jon’s arm to order the Conch fritters with grilled corn, jalapeno and Sriracha mayo, $11.  They are light and fluffy and something that I could imagine eating in south Florida.

The best of the bunch however was the Roasted Mushroom Salad [2] with locally foraged wild mushrooms, hearty Terra Bella Farms greens, Baetje Farms goat’s cheese, and toasted Missouri pecans, all tossed with a warm house bacon vin. $12.  Since I didn’t order this particular salad, I was sure happy that one of our dinner companions was willing to share.  It was so good, we almost ordered a second one!

Collectively we decided that we really shouldn’t order another round of first courses and decided to press on with our main courses.  These included Seared Scallops with Creamed Norma’s sweet corn, house bacon, butter poached chanterelle mushrooms. $18.  The scallops were one of those dishes that didn’t fare very well in the sharing department.  I’m afraid that by the time the plate got back around to Jon, who had ordered the dish, he found that there wasn’t much left.

Robb chose the Escolar [3] with Chaumette Traminette, dill and butter poached, grilled Pacific Blue prawns, and roasted Weidner Farms yellow French beans.  I enjoyed the Keta River Salmon with spoonbread, creamed Keller Farms corn and tomato concassé.  The Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf, that Greg ordered, with Sweet and Yukon Gold smashed potatoes, sous vide pearl onions, tomato merlot reduction, while delicious, seemed like a lost soul coming out of the kitchen as it did after three of us had finished our entrees.

Since the dessert menu was recited instead of written down, I’m relying on memory and a quick sms text to Robb to remember what it was we shared.  Between the two of us, we could only remember two of them.   The first was a Pecan Financier with mint ice cream and pecan croutons.   It was great fun seeing a “financier” in cylindrical shape, instead of the traditional barquette.  Even better, it had the same tender, buttery flavor as the traditional, which doesn’t always happen when you start futzing and changing things when baking.  The second was something that accompanied a berry compote.  It was less memorable, partly due to the fact that there were no blackberries.  The dessert we enjoyed the most was in the style of a  peanut butter cup.   It was a thin round chocolate shell filled with light peanut butter mousse sitting on top of a thick peanut butter bottom.  There’s a reason why peanut butter and chocolate are a classic combination — more often than not they work and in this case the flavors were perfect.

All in all everything that came out of the kitchen was beautiful to behold and delicious on the palette.  Also from everything that I have read Willmann takes seriously the notion of sourcing as much as possible locally, sans the fish and seafood, and that’s a beautiful thing.  My only negative of the evening was the lack of timing.  If everything is meant to be shared than give the appropriate time to allow each dish speak for itself.

Being from out of town and from what I have read, that there are a plethora of excellent restaurants in Saint Louis, I’d have to try some others before returning to Farmhaus.  However our hosts, who are local boys, would return for another visit.

Farmhaus [4], 3257 Ivanhoe Avenue, Saint Louis MO 63139 – 314.647.3800