F.A. Farm

  (Ferndale, Washington)
Postmodern Agriculture - Food With Full Attention
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Corn-Fed Ribeye Steak

When I was a ski bum in Vail in 1980, I could go out and buy dinner for two, with a nice bottle of French wine and pay $100, including tip. Last night, Toni and I had a wonderful dinner, with a 2005 French Bordeaux, for $100, including tip. The featured entree was a 14-oz. ribeye, which we split. The included side dish was garlic mashed potatoes and we ordered French Onion soup, braised mushrooms and a special house salad as extra sides. For dessert, we had one of my favorites from my ski-bum days, vanilla ice cream with a shot of Grand Marnier on top.

I am sure you can see the theme here - a momentary return to the good old days when we were in our thirties, young and strong. I was also a waiter back then and quite involved in restaurants. What I found interesting last night is how good the steak tasted (medium-rare by the way), even though we routinely eat grass-fed beef from the quarter we bought last year. We also don't eat much meat, about once or twice a week for an entree and mostly for flavoring our vegetable dishes or pasta. Also, I first tasted grass-fed beef around 1981 when one of my high-school buddies started raising it and I happened to be back in my home town. Grass-fed beef is certainly the preferred red meat in our house, but it did not make us feel like traitors to have a nicely-grilled, aged, corn-fed steak. For those of you Ferndalians and Bellinghamsters who want to know the name of the restaurant, send me an email. Otherwise, I will just say it is on the Res and you have to walk past the slot machines to get there. Bon appetit!

 
 

Let The Food Do The Talking

Last night Toni and I tried out a new French restaurant in Bellingham. We gave it a B on food and a C on service. First the waitress. Aside from being slow and with traces of that Bellingham "edge" that so infuriates us (sort of like the irritable Portland types transplanted into a cowtown), she was trying hard to be pleasant. Thus a middling grade on service. As for the food, we opted for the specials. Toni had the duck lasagna and the flavors were married quite well, but the duck seemed a little old to me, but not to Toni. I had the cassoulet with pork tenderloin. The flavor was complex but tilted a little too much on the bacon side. The pork tenderloins were added on top of the beans, in the haute cuisine style, but I could have used less pork and more beans. This is, after all, a peasant dish. We had a yam and garlic terrine for an appetizer. Again, the flavors were married quite well in the terrine, but the dish was a bit greasy. I could envision this particular dish with Buttercup squash in place of the yams, as the Buttercup flavor is often referred to as a "sweet potato" taste. We tried two robust red wines by the glass. The cheap Spanish wine was quite good, but I was disappointed in the cheap Washington wine from the Horse Heaven Hills, as it seemed a bit syrupy. This was unusual, as I am usually quite pleased with Washington wine - even the cheaper bottles. Also, I am quite interested in how the Horse Heaven Hills are making their presence known as a distinct wine region. The dinner was pleasant overall, but mostly because of the company, rather than the restaurant.

As I ate, I started thinking about beans and how we grow and cook our own beans. I have several varieties in the cupboard and usually cook them simply. Each kind of bean has a distinct taste of its own and is quite good with a minimum of spice. I usually just add cumin. There is also a complexity in taste that comes from the quality of our soil. Most people can taste this in our salad mix - even compared to other organic salad mixes - but I can taste it in the beans too. Each vegetable, fruit, grain and legume has a distinct complex of flavors that is already "mixed" or "married" inside its cell walls and these flavors are available and waiting to be released under varying conditions of heat, pressure, chemical combination with other flavonoids, etc. Taking this complex of variables and mixing them with another complex of variables, such as the complex of flavors in duck, raises the complexity up another level - complexity squared, as it were. With a good cook or a bulletproof recipe, this "complexity squared" can become quite exquisite, but can also produce utter failures for no apparent reason, Everyone has had this happen to them in the kitchen - all of a sudden, your signature dish flops spectacularly.

Our approach here at F.A. Farm is to put a lot of attention into the food before it is harvested. Then we cook it simply. This works with evolution, as the differing environmental stresses cause the plant to adapt in multiple ways that we can only vaguely imagine. Then we just let the intrinsic flavors out and train our palates to pick up the differences. Most people can taste multiple flavors in a glass of wine. The same training and attention paid to basic foodstuffs, like beans, can pick up many new tastes.

 
 
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