Months before the pandemic, we chose to treat ourselves to a special 12-course meal at Farm Spirit for my birthday. I went ahead and made a reservation. I knew that it was going to be a very different kind of experience. Instead of the usual entrée, main dish and desert, you are served a multi-course meal, 12 uniquely crafted courses featuring organic seasonal produce from within 105-miles radius of the restaurant! The commitment to feature local produce, artisan works is everywhere. 14 guests are seated around a magnificent chef’s counter made of ash sourced locally. Dishes are presented in unique locally handcrafted pottery dishes. Local and seasonal means using a reduced palette of ingredients to work with, especially in the fall and winter seasons. It also means not being able to use common vegan staples like cashew nuts to make cream, agave syrup to sweeten a cocktail or desert, coconut milk, cream etc. And this is where chef Aaron’s talents shines!
The menu for the evening featured Cascadian earthy flavors and textures that Chef Aaron Adams had introduced us in his previous restaurant, Portobello Trattoria. Here is the impressive list of dishes we had:
– Butter head, canola butter,
pickled mushroom, crispy onion,
– Potato, Bay laurel butter, dill
– Stuffed morels, nettle puree, miner’s lettuce
– Carrot, parsnip, sweet cicely, cardamom granola
– Asparagus, lovage, asparagus juice, lemon balm
– Cauliflower soup, ginger, poached hazelnuts
– Morels, fava beans, potato puree, chive blossoms
– Crispy abalone mushroom, polenta, smokey greens,
– Lime leaf whey
– Lovage ice, strawberry, rhubarb, sorrel
– Toast with apple butter, smoked hazelnut and red sorrel tisane
I ordered the housemade temperance flight (a set of non-alcoholic drinks). My favorite two drinks were the chamomile kombucha and ginger beer. The other drinks were a little bland in my opinion and could have used a little more sweetener or unique flavors in my opinion.
What I loved:
The smoked hazelnut yogurt was exquisite. I could have eaten a cup of it. I actually used my finger to get every bit of it! I am usually not a big fan of oyster or abalone mushrooms because of the strong fishy flavors but the batter for the crispy abalone was amazing.
The use of herbs like lovage, nettle, elder flowers in very creative ways (both from a taste and visual standpoint). The combination of lovage ice and sorrel with ripe strawberries was surprising and delightful.
We were given a little bread pudding to take home at the end of the meal as a thank you for coming. That was lovely touch. We couldn’t help wondering if part of the reason for giving out this little pastry was to make sure that big eaters may have space for more food and enjoy this extra bite!
What I was a little disappointed by:
The photo on the restaurant’s website shows 4-5 chefs huddled around the bar preparing the dishes, including chef Aaron. We only had one chef briefly presenting each dish before setting it in front of each guest and he didn’t add much to what was printed on the menu. Watching the sous-chef preparing each dish in a very meticulous and artistic way was lovely. I can imagine that if Chef Aaron had been presenting the food it would have been a lot more informative! It is just that here is so much work that goes into preparing emulsions, creams, infusions and other amazing concoctions, and only a few seconds to consume it, that I feel it deserves a little more introduction to give it proper appreciation. I was curious about some of the flavors and techniques and asked a few questions but it seemed that someone else had prepared the food in the morning and the chef and sous-chef were mostly responsible for serving the dishes. It would have been nice to have had a little more insight into the preparation of some of these unique dishes.
We ended up being seated at the end of the bar (right next to the restrooms), so we felt a little away from the action! It was a little difficult at times to hear the presentation of the dish when the chef was on the other end of the bar.
The size of portion for the first 4 dishes was quite small. The use of beautiful large bowls made this even more obvious. It takes several bites to get thru all the complexities of each dish. The stuffed morel went down with one bite and the snap pea dishes was mostly flowers and leaves laid over perfectly steamed young snap peas. Less flowers and a few more delicious tender snap peas would have been nice!
Everyone will have their favorite and less favorite dishes. In my case, I really didn’t care for the burnt flavor of the smoky greens and polenta making that dish my least favorite but its only saving grace was the amazing crispy abalone that came with it!
While my taste buds had been awakened to unique flavors, purees and emulsions, I felt that the dishes lacked in calories, grain and fat. We grow wheat, barley in the region, it would have been a nice addition and provided some bulk to some of the dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I love vegetables but the absence of grain and pulse could be the reason why I felt a bit disappointed after the meal.
I can imagine the experience being different in the Fall and winter with a more limited palette of ingredients than in the Summer where the selection of fresh vegetable and fruit is so large.
How does it stack with the competition:
I remember growing up in France, my dad taking my mom and I to a three-star world famous restaurant in Lyon (it has since moved to Roanne), his home town for a special occasion. It is called “Les Frères Troisgros”. The formula was similar, a dozen small dishes served over at least 3.5 hours, which for an adolescent seemed like an eternity. It was punctuated with palate cleansers like sherbet so that we could start with clean taste buds. Now, I wasn’t a vegan back then but I recall getting pretty full halfway through the courses, not because they served large portions, but because each dish had rich flavors and I am sure packed a lot of calories in every bite.
If you like the formula, there are a few other restaurants in the US that serve a vegan tasting menu:
Del Posto in New York, has a 5-course for $145 and an 8-course vegan meal for $179 preceded by 3 amuse-course.
Eater’s Note in Austin, Texas (offers 7 different menus every night)
Alinea and Next in Chicago.
Reflecting back on our experience at Farm Spirit, this time of year offers mostly mushrooms, root vegetables and a few early greens somehow limiting the palette of ingredients. Winter must be even more limited making 12 unique dishes even more challenging!
My suggestion is you are planning to go is to have a light snack a few hours before going. We had an early brunch and by the time our reservation came (8:30pm) we were starved!
I think that the best time to come is in the summer where chef Aaron has the broadest palette of fruit, vegetables and herbs and can dazzle you with his unique creations.