Food & Drink

Restaurant review: Farm Table gets serious about local food

Flanking the entrance, vines climbing rustic wood slat trellises affixed to the brick strip mall storefront stand out like a mule at an auto show. Even in January, vestigial stems of last summer’s mint can be seen poking out of the soil in a planter by the door. Over the awning, the words FARM TABLE in giant block letters can mean only one thing: Giorgios Bakatsias has brought the farm-to-table concept to Wake Forest.

Inside, designers have pulled out all the stops in living up to the eye-catching decors that Bakatsias – a prolific restaurateur whose eclectic holdings include Vin Rouge, Parizade and Kipos – is known for. Burlap curtains in the windows, farm implements on the walls, whimsical sculptures of barnyard animals, chandeliers fashioned from wire cages, and more – lots more – of those wood slats set an unequivocally agrarian mood.

There’s plenty of substance to back up the show, starting with a list of nearly two dozen featured local farms and food artisans appended to the menu. Many of the herbs used in the kitchen are grown at the restaurant.

Managing partner Laszlo Lukacsi, a 15-year veteran of the Giorgios Hospitality Group, recently doubled down on the concept. With permission from the landlord to transform a half-acre patch of undeveloped land on the property into a garden, Lukacsi is preparing the soil with organic amendments in anticipation of planting in the coming weeks. The excitement in his voice is evident as he talks of planting tomatoes, peppers, squash and zucchini, and beginning to reap the harvest around mid-May.

In the meantime, chefs Lotah Fields and Jerome Zimmer are creating some tasty dishes out of the comparatively slim pickings of the winter harvest. On a recent menu, pillowy pierogis filled with mashed potato and caramelized onion, served alongside a mound of sautéed red cabbage, proved that winter vegetables don’t have to be boring. That goes double for a salad of roasted beets, arugula, horseradish goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts.

On the same menu, a flatbread topped with Heritage Farms charcuterie, double cream brie and fresh arugula made for a delightful palate-priming companion to the bar’s signature take on a Dark and Stormy cocktail, made with ginger beer and Krupnikas spiced honey liqueur.

Heritage Farms, a pork producer noted for its naturally raised Cheshire pigs, was featured on the entree list, too, in the form of a thick chop, grilled to a juicy medium and glazed with fig-and-apple chutney, and paired with caramelized Brussels sprouts and sweet potato puree.

A grouper filet, expertly seared and draped over a warm salad of farro and wilted winter greens, served as a fresh testament to Farm Table’s commitment to sourcing seafood from North Carolina and South Carolina waters.

Not that they’re sticklers about it. Chilean salmon, obviously not from Carolina waters but included by virtue of its universal popularity, was anything but ordinary in a presentation with soba noodles, local mushrooms, edamame, julienne peppers and braised beef short rib (here playing a cameo role, also available as the star ingredient in a separate entree offering).

Kitchen miscues are mercifully few and generally minor – here a stingy hand with the star ingredient in a shrimp salad, there a puddle of unthickened cream in the bottom of the miniature cast iron skillet that contained the creamed spinach accompaniment for a grilled rib-eye. The steak, on the other hand, was first-rate.

Taking its cue from the local harvest, the menu changes every three weeks or so. In the current edition, released in late January, Asian flavors are a recurring theme in a small plate offerings, whose enticements include rice noodle salad with shaved sirloin, ginger and peanuts; shrimp toast; and lion’s head meatballs (made with pork from Seven Springs Farm in eastern Tennessee) with napa cabbage in a ginger broth.

Seven Springs provides the pork chop on the entree list, too, as Farm Table spreads the locally sourced love around among suppliers. The grouper has slipped the net for the time being, making way for trout stuffed with Moroccan rice, golden raisins and preserved lemon. The salmon picks up the Asian thread with a miso glaze. Bacon mac ’n’ cheese is back by popular demand, as are seared tuna and braised beef short rib. I’ve got my eye on the braised ox tail, an under-appreciated dish that’s seldom seen in these parts.

And I can’t wait to see what they do with those heirloom tomatoes and Hungarian peppers this summer.

ggcox@bellsouth.net or newsobserver.com/mouthful

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