Was discussing vegetarian options, especially nicer ones, on PortlandFood.org today so when my wife had me make some suggestions for dinner, I offered Farm Cafe as part of the mix. It was a no-brainer for my wannabe vegetarian (unless bacon shows up) wife.
The Farm is in an older house near the corner of 7th and Burnside. Not the nicest area, but the place itself is pleasant -- that somewhat odd, but typical Portland mix of hipster/Bohemian/yuppie-ness. The interior is appropriate to the house, dark, but colorful interior. Somewhat interesting window treatments, pleated pinkish embroidered looking fabric. But my wife didn't think it went. It's a pretty small place that includes a bar area and outdoor dining. There are padded benches on some of the walls and the chairs are relatively comfortable. My wife and I had two of the only chairs with padded backs, too, which was nice. The tables themselves have an interesting metalic finish under the glass.
Though a vegetarian restaurant, there are also several fish dishes. Lots of cheese and dairy on the menu, too. But there seem to be some vegan-friendly choices, though they're not indicated.
We ordered three appetizers which we shared: the soup of the day, a sweet potato and apple soup ($4); the sauteed goat cheese salad with capers ($8); and a special, the baked brie ($7).
The soup was okay, but not the best conceived or executed. It was probably the weakest dish of the night. It was overly peppery even for me. On the other hand, it was under salted even for my wife. It wasn't a pureed soup. There was apple, potato, and sweet potato chunks, along with celery and possibly other vegetable bits. The broth was better once I got some salt. But it wasn't especially tasty. The celery didn't go with the other flavors at all. The apple wasn't noticable. It just wasn't that good of a soup. I'd expect better from any deli in an upscale supermarket.
The goat cheese salad was simple and good. The cheese was breaded and sauteed, perfectly crispy on the outside and creamy and warm on the inside. It was served on mixed greens with capers, which added a nice tangy-saltiness, along with some Ken's baguette. Not especially interesting, but good.
The brie was served along with 8 inches or so of warm, sliced baguette. It was served with an allegedly "toasted" simple syrup, hazelnuts, and huckleberries. The simple syrup wasn't noticably "toasted", but it was good nonetheless. I've had better baked brie prepartions, but it was a good one, and the huckleberries added a nice tartness to the creamy cheese.
For entrees, my wife got the herb crusted tofu with mushroom marsala ($9) and I got the grilled halibut with huckleberry beurre blanc ($13).
I make tofu about twice a week for my wife and since I despise the stuff, I'm pretty picky about what I call "good" tofu. This was good tofu. They didn't try to remake it or try to flavor it so much with some foreign substance that it no longer tasted like tofu. They put a nice herb and crumb crust on the three slabs of tofu, leaving the middle somewhat creamy. It was served on top of mashed potatoes that were a little dry and lacking butter. Maybe this was one of the vegan entrees. The mushrooms and sauce were quite good. The Farm does quite well with sauces. The onions, that looked caramelized, added a very nice depth of flavor and sweetness.
My halibut was maybe a little overcooked for me, but was not dry at all. I just like fish a touch undercooked. The sauce was good, not overly sweet, which seems to be the norm for fruit sauces at places of this level. It was served with forgettable potatoes and forgettable lightly dressed spinach. But I enjoyed it and the price of $13 was very fair. (They get their fish from Newman's.)
For dessert we split a special, tres leches with huckleberries ($6). It was an adequate tres leches with some whipped cream on the side. But the huckleberries worked quite well to add tartness.
Overall, the place is pretty good. It's not at the level of places like Lauro, Park Kitchen, clarkewis, or Fife, but not far behind. It's more in the realm of the place I recently reported on, Echo, or Papa Haydn. Places that are worth eating at, but just fall short of the truly better places in Portland. I do think per pound of food, The Farm is a good deal. I mean, that tofu dish is cheaper than most of the crap you'd get at Olive Garden, even vegetarian dishes like fettucine alfredo. Hell, it's less than the crap you'd get at Shari's. It's a respectable choice for someone looking for veggie-friendly or fish dishes.
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