In 2010, I reviewed Farmers and Fishers for this blog. I have added some new thoughts to the original post and am highlighting them here.
There have been a lot of physical and instantly-noticeable changes at Farmers and Fishers since I posted my original review of the restaurant in 2010. The massive flooding from the Potomac in 2011 caused it to be totally renovated, closing it for business for months. The name has (once again) changed, as it is now formally ‘Farmers Fishers Bakers’. And the menu has just continued to expand.
In spite of all that, it held on to the most important thing: it is still delicious.
I returned to DC and Farmers and Fishers in turn last weekend to celebrate my cousin’s graduation from Georgetown (well done, Matty!) and there was symbolism abound. He was one of the two hungry boys that went with me to Farmers and Fishers when I reviewed it back in 2010, and then he was also there five months later when my extended family gathered to celebrate my own graduation.
Aside from the sentimentality of the place, I would happily go back without a graduation invitation because the food is so good. The menu continues to be a lengthy one with seemingly-unrelated sections throughout. Pretzels to start, duck fat chicken wings for the gourmet grease-hound, ‘nice 8 buck salads’ for people who want to pretend they’re being dietetic, and wide variety of all kinds of fish and meat dishes from the eponymous farmers and fishers.
Highlights of the recent meal included my hands-down delicious spicy ahi tuna poke, a refreshing salad with a type of tuna ceviche served over a crisp salad with avocados. The other stand out was also in the fisher’s catch, as their version of crab cakes was heavy on the flavorful crab and light on the excess breadcrumbs.
The width and breadth of the menu means that the restaurant is the perfect place for all kinds of groups- from picky eaters to those who post every meal on Instagram. The relaxed atmosphere and proximity to the Waterfront makes it a great pick for locals and visitors. (Not to mention those Georgetown alums who pretend like they know the city after four years on the Hilltop but only really know the area directly north and south of M Street.)
Click here to continue reading the review on the original post.
Red Farm is a prime example of how too much hype can ruin a good restaurant. In this case, my expectations were set to a very high bar and the food- while fine- failed to meet it. on top of that, the wait and the prices were too long and too high respectively which just left me with a bad taste in my mouth. (I didn’t order a side of disappointment with my dim sum, thank you very much.)
There were some definite highs and lows wit the food. I would order the crispy beef again in a heart beat, and ideally a dole portion because we gobbled that up and fought over the last piece (by ‘fought’ I mean feigned politeness and offered it to everyone pretending like we weren’t chomping at the bit for it. Please, we’re not savaged). The famed Katz’s pastrami egg rolls were expectantly decadent and delightfully greasy.
The lows came for me when the chef clearly placed more of his attention on presentation than on the dish itself. This specifically applied to the Shu Mai shooters and the ‘pac man’ shrimp dumplings. While they both tasted fine, they were prettier to look at than to pay for. Priced at $14 and $12.50 respectively for a serving of four, both were overrated. Yes, you shaped a shrimp dumpling to look like a pac man character and used bright food dye to bring the allusion home- well done, you. The Shu Mai shooters were cool to look at, being served over a tall shot glass with a little sip of warm carrot and ginger bisque, but you really couldn’t tell that the dumplings themselves were made of scallop and squid as opposed to chopped up pieces of shrimp.
On the dumpling front, they slightly redeemed themselves with the pork and crab soup dumplings which were large and piping hot with flavorful broths. However, the self-appointed expert in our group said that they still weren’t as good as the soup dumplings at Shanghai Joe’s.
The lowest point of the meal for me came when we opted for the special main course: the Dragon and Phoenix. Would it help resurrect the meal from the ashes? No, no it will not. To be fair, I went with this dish in spite of the warning bells in my head that were on high alert as they always are when I see an item that is one main-ingredient stuffed with another. In this case it was shrimp-stuffed chicken: the West Village equivalent of a turducken, and we all know that is not a good thing. The bites were greasy, different flavors were indistinguishable, and far too chewy and fat-laden. The accompanying sesame green beans were delicious, but if only that was enough to justify the $27 price tag.
I really wanted to like Red Farm, and this harsh take down comes after two dinners there. Be happy that I went back, however, because it would have been more scathing after the hour-plus wait that we had for a two top (on a early week night) the first time that we went. There were definitely positive elements to the meals- including the friendly waitstaff who were by helpful and nice- but it isn’t enough to make it a staple in the rota of restaurants.
Address: 529 Hudson Street between Charles and West 10th Streets, Manhattan 10014
Contact Information: 212-792-9700 http://redfarmnyc.com/
Dress: Casual, and depending on the day there’s a reliable mix of West Village trendy and after work office wear.
Perfect for: People who like the idea of being in an open-air food court. With benches. And shade. And booze.
Price: Starters are between $10 and $20, dim sum plates of generally four pieces are between $12 and $18, and main dishes are pretty much $25 to $40
Overall Grade: B- I was really disappointed with Red Farm but none of it was poorly cooked. It was more of a disappointment given the prices and the merely fine dishes.
Taking a cue from New York Times food critic Pete Wells, I ventured westward for the latest review and am bringing back some goodness from San Francisco. That said, my venue differed greatly from the haughty restaurant that Mr Wells zeroed in on: mine is a food truck park.
Calling food trucks a cool new thing is like saying that smartphones are handy. The SoMa StrEat Food Park gets that too, and the reason why it is so special has little to do with the fact that the food comes out of kitchens on wheels. What struck me most when I visited were the parts of the park that were not on wheels.
The food park is effectively a converted parking lot that has a rota of different vendors who roll up every day and serve lunch and dinner every day of the week, as well as full-day spreads through the weekend. It started last summer, and basically provides many of the structural elements of a restaurant- picnic tables, indoor seating, pseudo indoor seating in converted school buses- without the proper brick and mortar aspect. Other touches include big screen TVs in the central enclosure for people who want to watch a big game, and free WiFi.
The roster of trucks on any given day ranges from the quirky Asian-Mexican fusian taco trucks and the expected homages to deep South barbeque to the more unusual Nordic food truck that offered smoked salmon or a delicious-sounding walnut salad. There are more than fifty trucks that advertise as being part of the regular attendance list, a few of which I am truly bummed to have missed out on. (Worth specific mention given it’s pure originality: EireTrea, made by a duo from Ireland and Eritrea.)
It only seems fitting given the proximity to Silicon Valley that the vendors are announced via Twitter and Facebook daily, but the selection last weekend wasn’t the reason why my lovely hosts and I trekked out to the industrial part of the beautiful city. I opted for a hefty chicken stir fry with bok choy and rice from one of the Asian fusion trucks, but there were a host of other culinary regions to choose from. One friend chose the chicken schwarma from the falafel truck, another opted for the last of the green tea-flavored Frozen Kuhsterd from the eponymous truck, and another bypassed food altogether and stuck to the ‘bottomless mimosa’ deal that lasts from 11am to 2pm on the weekends (it’s ok: it was her birthday).
While there are plenty of delicious restaurants in the city, the set-up of the SoMa Streatfood Park really struck me because it is the clear California cousin of the New York versions- Smorgasburg and Madison Square Eats. Smorgasburg, the ‘flea food market’ that is now open for the summer right on the river in Brooklyn, has a similar level of attitude and creativity, but it is much less settled than the SoMa park simply because it is broken down and rebuilt every weekend. Inherently that means that there is less means for stability and structure than that of a daily year-round park. Madison Square Eats, by contrast, is daily but only for two months a year (starting this weekend! So get excited). Though these are both good substitutes, I have seen the dream scenario in California, good readers, and we’ve got to take our cues from the hippies out West.
Address: 428 11th Street between Harrison Street and the Central Freeway, San Francisco, California, 94130
Contact Information: http://somastreatfoodpark.com/
Dress: Totally casual. It’s a parking lot.
Perfect for: People who like the idea of being in an open-air food court. With benches. And shade. And booze.
Price: Ranges by truck, but pretty much in between $5 and $12 per item
Overall Grade: A- It’s a totally fun and relaxed atmosphere, and has a lot of charm in an off-kilter sense but it is in a pretty remote part of town.
For a city with such a diverse food scene and an unending stream of restaurants, it comes as a bit of a surprise that there really area not that many good Thai places in New York. Having grown up in London, my affinity for Thai is quite serious and my parents’ is even stronger, so when they came to town on a recent weekend, I suggested we try the restaurant in the Thompson Hotel in SoHo to get our fix.
The restaurant’s bar is small (there is another outdoor one upstairs, but it is not connected to the restaurant) but what it lacks I size it makes up for in spirits. A friend used to work as one of their bartenders and they do not mess around when it comes to creative cocktails, and my mother said that their Cosmo met her very-exacting standards, so that’s basically the Good Housekeeping seal of approval right there.
The setting in the Thompson Hotel (formally called 60 Thompson) gives the place an automatic hip vibe, and that extends through to the dining room. There were definite atmospheric similarities between Kittichai and Zuma in London, which is a very good thing. The food was similarly delicious.
The appetizers were probably my favorite, and brought me back to another personal London favorite- e&o- where the rock shrimp and duck and watermelon salads are staples on the best of orders. Kittichai has their own versions of the dishes, both of which are wonderful, as were the not-too-sticky barbeque baby back ribs.
They also won me over with their inclusion of a solid green papaya salad. The zesty salad is a traditional Thai dish, and it also accompanied the whole fish main meal. While the actual fish was very good, the presentation takes over on that plate where they deep fry an entire fish and loop it in a way so that it lays on it side while the tail and head touch up in the air. (I know that restaurants don’t love it when you take pictures of your plate, but this one was obviously for the fans of food photos, see above.)
While the meat and poultry mains were good- including the chicken roulade, the poussin and the steak- I felt that the fish dishes were definitely the ones I would order again. The soy-marinated Chilean seabass was particularly delicious, as the slivers flaked apart perfectly and melted in your mouth. The price point is definitely on the higher end of the scale, but it isn’t necessarily outrageous, and the bill get even better if you go to their weekend $25-brunch that includes unlimited cocktails. (The pricey wine list and cocktails are definitley the culprits when it comes to trumping up the final tally.)
Address: 60 Thompson Street, between Broome and Spring Streets, Manhattan 10013
Contact Information: 212-219-2000 http://kittichairestaurant.com/
Dress: Chic. You’re in SoHo, dress like it.
Perfect for: People who appreciate good Thai, but be prepared to be surrounded by people who care more about the scene than the food.
Price: For dinner, starters range from $11 to $16 and mains from $25 to $33. There is a completely different lunch menu which features classic Thai dishes like pad thai and different curries that are all under $17. There are several prix-fixe menus available, including a $20 weekday lunch and a bottomless $25 weekend brunch.
Overall Grade: A-, the food is surprisingly delicious and the scene is fun for a big night out, but this is certainly not a restaurant to add to your regular roster. Save it for a special occasion.
Union Square Cafe has been around for longer than I have- and I don’t mean longer than I’ve been in in New York City. This restaurant is the founding jewel in what has flourished on to be the Danny Meyer empire that has taken over Manhattan. Unlike many empirical conquests, I am a fan of the rule of Mr Meyer, and that is due in large part to my fondness for Union Square Cafe.
This is the restaurant where my mom and aunt would pick for lunch when we came into the city on day trips from the suburbs when I was a kid, and it always signaled that we would be making a pit-stop at the adorable shop Books of Wonder (which should help explain how I turned into a writer later in life). Well, Books of Wonder may have moved to a larger, less personal space a couple blocks north, but Union Square Cafe has stayed put since 1985 and thank goodness for that.
On the surface, there is nothing particularly amazing about the place, as it is a pretty standard American restaurant serving seasonal specials in a casual and relaxed atmosphere. The big thing about it is that it has been able to consistently serve solid and creative food for nearly three decades at this point in a city known for its rapid turnover rates. On top of that, it helped personify friendly, honest, and reliable service in such a way that it continued to reign customers in for generations at a time.
Describing the menu as comfort food would be a disservice, but it also wouldn’t be considered a challenging or wildly unique collection of dishes either. My favorite is the chicken Milanese, where a large, perfectly-cooked cutlet is topped with a heaping salad of greens, shaved peppers and pecorino. The steak salad is a hearty but half-healthy option, and the fish entrees like the swordfish with roasted fennel is a flavorful treat.
And, though they may have taken them off the menu (for some unknown reason), be sure to ask for the garlic potato chips. They may not be great if you’re there on a date, but they are certainly worth looking the other way when it comes to calorie counting.
There is nothing trendy or hip about Union Square Cafe, so it’s intended audience definitely caters to a slightly older clientele is less concerned about seeing and being scene. It is the one of the go-to’s for out-of-towners who want to pretend that they are slightly in-the-know, but it will also warm even the most cynical of New Yorker’s hearts to a certain degree.
Address: 21 East 16th Street, between University and Fifth (just West of Union Square), 10003
Contact Information: 212-243-4020 http://www.unionsquarecafe.com/
Dress: Casual but neat. This is a very parent- and grandparent-appropriate restaurant, so come prepared.
Perfect for: People who are looking for a classically good American bistro meal, and are happy to pay a bit more for it.
Price: Fair-sized appetizers and starter-sized pastas range from $10-$17 at lunch with mains between $16 for the burger and $35 for the strip steak. At dinner, the prices go up only by about a dollar or two.
Overall Grade: A, Union Square Café is a modern New York classic and it’s consistent quality and friendly service will help keep that decade for years to come.
In keeping with my apparent theme of ‘New York bucket list restaurants’, my latest review brings us up to the opposite end of Manhattan island this week, as we delve into Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. This restaurant has been glorified into an ode to down-home cooking, so much so that it motivates even the most stubborn downtown folk into figuring out how to get up to Harlem. (Surprise: you take the subway. It’s easy.)
I lived approximately two blocks away from Dinosaur when I was getting my Master’s in journalism at Columbia, and I found that it was the absolute easiest way to describe where I lived: everyone seems to know about this barbeque joint, and they immediately begin salivating when they start thinking about it.
Though the food is good, it doesn’t necessarily send me running up to 125th Street at the drop of a hat. It is definitely a good meal, and reasonably priced, so it is a matter of tempering expectations when going into it.
As someone who did not grow up south of the Mason-Dixon, there is always a certain novelty when it comes to Southern food. That is particularly true when it comes to fried green tomatoes (Why green? Is it an ode to the Mary Louise Parker/Mary Stuart Masterson movie? Who knows! Go with it) which serve as a shareable starter.
From there, go ahead and choose from a selection of braised and barbequed meats paired with a varied mix of pleasantly delicious sides. I generally stick to pulled pork sandwiches, which they do well and don’t over-sauce. A self-proclaimed foodie who is a fan of brisket gave his thumbs up to their version of the dish as well. Obviously the ribs are a draw for many, and for good reason as they are cooked so that they stay juicy but definitely still have a smokiness to them. (One friend, for some ungodly reason, always chose a turkey burger. Though I feel like that is some kind of sacrilege, she swears it is delicious, so if that’s your thing, go ahead.)
While all of the mains are fine, I have the most fun with the sides. The roasted whipped sweet potatoes are really fluffy and delicious and are one thing that I make sure is always ordered. The creole potato salad and the mac & cheese are also go-to’s and really give the meal a ‘backyard barbeque’ feel.
If you take the journey up to the Harlem-125th Street stop on the 1 train on the weekend, be prepared to wait for a bit in the bar. Never fear, however, as their cocktails are well-prepared and served in mason jars, and their beer options plentiful.
Regardless of my less-than-stellar views of the food, I have a fond spot in my culinary memory for this place, as it was the restaurant of choice for so many of my classmates when we were blowing off steam after a long week of chasing down sources or re-writing our final paper.
Address: There is one in Manhattan and five other locations in the tri-state area. The one in Harlem is located at 700 West 125th Street, in between Riverside Drive and the Henry Hudson Parkway, 10027
Contact Information: 212-694-1777 http://www.dinosaurbarbque.com/
Dress: Casual. You’re probably going to get some kind of sauce on you. Don’t wear anything nice.
Perfect for: People who want to go down South, but realize it’s quicker and cheaper to head up to Harlem.
Price: Between cheap and reasonable: main plates range between $13 and $26 depending on the amount of meat you order (a sandwich is obviously cheaper than ¾-rack of ribs) and the number of sides included in the platter.
Overall Grade: B, Everything is good, and you’ll have a great time in the relaxed atmosphere, but any true barbeque snobs may be slightly underwhelmed.
Dim sum in Chinatown is one of those bucket list items that has been put off on my friend group’s collective to do list for far too long, so we finally took charge and decided to go to Nom Wah Tea Parlor for lunch. My impression of Chinatown will never be the same now, as this is a new favorite spot for a fun lunch downtown.
Nom Wah originally opened in 1920 as a bakery, and while the signage has clearly stayed the same (with Art Deco-style font for the text), the interior looks very much like an old school diner. They make the most of their space, with tables crammed in every space and spots in booths along the side as well as the counter.
As a newcomer, the dining experience at Nom Wah can be a bit dizzying: you don’t enter to put your name down for a spot, as a staffer meets you outside and gives you a ticket with your table number on it as you wait for your spot while standing in the middle of windy, historic Doyers Street. Though the street’s curve and the number of gang wars that took place there gave it the name ‘the bloody angle’ back in the 1930s, now it is transformed on weekends into a loose collection of hungry foodies waiting for their steamed dumplings.
Once you’re seated, you are (mercifully) given a menu made out of pictures of the various dumpling, roll, and soup options as well as a sheet of paper where you fill out the number of orders per item that you’d like. The first time that I came here, I came with eight hungry girls and one knowledgeable gentlemen, though his hints didn’t end up being to helpful: the server came out 10 minutes after we gave him our order sheet and said “Are you planning on staying all night?” Apparently we ordered enough to feed the entire restaurant, so he helpfully cut off half of our items.
Even with his help, we were absolutely bursting when we left. Most dumpling or roll dishes come for to a plate, and the shareable plates are heaping, so we were left with a massive box of leftovers on the way out. Overall, most dishes were delicious, and one in particular that stands out is the shrimp Sui Mai . Unlike other places, these pieces of Sui Mai were made up of distinct shrimp rather than chopped up pieces of shrimp which was a major bonus. Other highlights include the fried rice, soup dumplings, and the scallion pancakes which were delightfully crisp and not overly greasy. Ones to avoid included the rice roll with spare ribs (the spare ribs had barely any meat on them and the rice rolls were too slippery to be enjoyed) along with the turnip cake and the salt and pepper spare rib (they were so deep fried that you couldn’t even tell what kind of meat was in each bite).
The amazing thing about this place is that you can go a dozen times and never order the same thing (unless you want to) because there are so many combinations to be made. And, sealing the deal is the fact that the vast majority of orders range between $2 and $6 per serving, meaning that no matter what it is going to be a reasonable meal. On the first visit- with the massive over order and the stuffed-to-the-gills result- the entire bill was $20 per person. When I went back a week later with more rational eaters, our damage was $8 a piece.
Address: 13 Doyers Street off Bowrey (below Canal St.)
Contact Information: (212) 962-6047 http://nomwah.com/
Dress: Totally casual- it’s basically a diner
Perfect for: People who up for trying new things, and not spending money
Price: Everything ranges between $1.50 to $8 per dish, so split among friends it is totally reasonable to expect your meal to cost about $15 per person and still come out completely full
Overall Grade: A The best dim sum I have been to in the city