Farmhouse Café2121 Adams Ave., University Heights619-269-9662www.farmhousecafesd.com
Open for less than a year, Farmhouse Café occupies the same spot that housed Café 2121 (which has moved to 2736 Adams Ave. but kept its name) and Zio Mario's before that. It's not an easy location for a restaurant, but despite that, Farmhouse seems to be doing well and has developed a following among University Heights locals—in fact, one of the three aluminum tables on the small patio area was brought over by a patron one particularly busy night in order to accommodate an extra party.
Serving what husband-and-wife owners Olivier and Rochelle Bioteau call “rustic French cuisine,” Farmhouse is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and brunch on weekends. We split up a day to try out both meals:
Last Sunday was the second time I had been to brunch at Farmhouse, and there was no question about what I'd order: the ricotta pancakes. Mild, slightly sweet and topped with a tangy orange sauce, those pancakes are, hands-down, my favorite breakfast item in San Diego.
The husband considered getting the FHC Hamburger, but I made him order the three-egg scramble with chorizo instead. He's a fan of chorizo and eggs, so I figured it would be a good test to see how the dish measured up. We both started out with café au laits, a drink you don't find on menus too often, but one that I prefer over lattés. I don't know enough about the difference between the two (coffeephiles, help me out?), but I know that I love how the au lait is prepared here.
The ricotta pancakes were exactly the same as when I last got them—perfect. As for the chorizo and eggs, if you're a fan of a traditional version of the dish, this might not be your thing. While the husband enjoyed it, it didn't have the kick he's used to—which meant that I loved it. The eggs were light and fluffy, and the chorizo seemed as if it had been puréed and mixed in; the flavor of the sausage was subtle. The eggs were served atop a tasty compote of tomatoes, peppers and onions, which sat on a toasted slice of country bread. I enjoyed this dish almost as much as the pancakes—the two may need to arm wrestle for my affection next time.
We sat out on the patio—barely big enough for three tables, and despite not being in the busier main dining room, we never waited for service and any request was fulfilled promptly and politely. It's just too bad the restaurant wasn't a little further west—so the patio would offer a view of Trolley Barn Park.—Kelly Davis
A restaurant's interior décor creates the promise of an eating experience that the chef must then work to fulfill.
Generic, motel-style artwork? Expect canned apples in that pie. Cement tables and a glass-top bar? The dishes will be experimental and tiny and will possibly involve foam. At Farmhouse, the close-packed tables suggest a hipster Brooklyn eatery, but the long, wooden bar leading down the left side of the restaurant counters that vibe with a kind of rough-hewn hominess. Its lines guide the eye to a hutch on the back wall holding the kind of books and brick-a-brack that would be right for a bed-and-breakfast. The restaurant's west-facing wall is lined with carvings of its mascot, the humble duck. All in all, the understated effect promises seasonal, fresh ingredients and traditional dishes competently prepared.
So consider the décor a bit of a ruse, a head-fake on the way to dinner. Yes, the food is competently prepared, and the dishes do use only fresh, seasonal ingredients. But the atmosphere of hominess offers nary a hint of the originality and unexpected combinations to be found on the menu. A bed of crushed eggplant (preciously described on the menu as “eggplant caviar”) balanced three large scallops in one of the entrées. The escargot risotto appetizer not only nailed the snail preparation (too often they're cooked into rubber), but the parsley-flavored risotto had a light, springy flavor that defied the heaviness of the traditional arborio rice dish. Bouillabaisse is a more traditional French dish, to be sure, but Farmhouse serves up mussels, clams, halibut and rockfish in a tomato broth that's full of flavor, if just a tad on the salty side.
The restaurant also manages portion size to make sure there's room for all three courses, which is just a subtle way of saying, “Don't miss dessert.” The plum tartlet on the menu sits on a bed of rhubarb and underneath a scoop of homemade honey ice cream. The sweet and tart combination of the plum, rhubarb and ice cream perfectly washes down the preceding delights. —Eric WolffCandice Woo will be back next week.