The Farmer’s apprentice has burst on the seen in Vancouver with the same intensity that Donald Trump’s apprentice hit the airwaves years ago . Trump’s show tested young and aspiring entrepreneurs on a variety of tasks and had sent their asses out the door if they didn’t make the cut. I can make the same parallels with this restaurant…let me explain.
The first task is getting a reservation. The small venue’s popularity makes it difficult to get into. I placed a call between their designated hours of 2 pm to 5pm only to get a voice mail asking me to leave my name, party size along with date and time and somebody would get back to me IF a reservation was available. Knowing my time in Vancouver was short, I let them know I would be free anytime Thursday night. I received a call shortly after confirming an 830 reservation.
The second task was finding the place. Perhaps it’s a bit easier on a night that didn’t include a confused cab driver and a heavy rainstorm in the dark, but I imagine it’s still a difficult task on a good night. It’s small and subtle exterior along West 6th street doesn’t stand out.
Task three was getting a seat. The host had the typical “please tell me you don’t have a reservation so I can laugh at you” look. He looked a bit disappointed when I announced my 830 slot but still seemed a bit pleased when he told me I would have to wait a few minutes. Looking around, the place is small and looked like a farmhouse an ambitious hipster got his or her hands all over. There were tiny tables, rural country window panes and a washroom separated by barn doors. The set-up was messy, especially at the door. It was quite crowded, especially with the need for waitstaff to run out to the porch on occasion to serve the tables out there. A large bar/communal table takes up a good part of the middle of the restaurant. As I waited, I always felt like I was in the way. Eventually, we were seated at table in the front corner which was rather quaint.
The fourth task was ordering. This feat was hampered by the fact that the online menu is updated periodically and may not be reflective of the evening’s fare. For example, I had my heart set on the leeks, cat tails, caramelized buttermilk, ramps, watercress (I have childhood memories of eating boiled cat tails which may have triggered my desire for things that grow in a swamp). The menu changed, however, so I was out of luck unless I wanted my cat tail served beside roasted chicken. For about 5 seconds I pondered asking if I could just have a side order but visions of the soup nazi filled my head and figured there was a slight chance I might be asked to leave.
I started with a drink. Since having my first one in Toronto a couple of months ago, I have developed an affinity for the classic boulevadier. This one was decent for $10 but I still crave the one from east thrity-six in Toronto on a regular basis.
Foodwise, I settled for poached egg, first season asparagus, rye bread, mimolette, pea shoots for $11. The egg seemed almost sous vide and had a vibrant orange yolk and with the asparagus was hidden beneath a foam and topped with the grated salty cheese and rye bread crumbs.The taste hit the mark although some some slides of ry would have been nice to mop of the aftermath of my yolk piercing destruction.
Next was mackerel, lovage, sea asparagus, celery and ikura. The presentation was beautiful. The mackerel skin was charred and the remaining ingredients were served salsa style on top of the filet which cut through the fatty fish with easy. The marriage of crunchy vegetables and silky fish made for great mouth feel and pings of salt from the ikura bounced around my palate to consummate the seasoning.
Finally, I had the 3 weeks dry aged quail, honey roasted carrot, orange, pistachio and cabarnet sauvignon vinegar($18). One again, it was a pretty dish; presented with different colours and textures. The hay-stuffed quail was nicely roasted with the breasts served medium-rare. I was encouraged by the waitstaff to rummage through the hay in hopes of finding an “oyster”. I don’t think I discovered a gem but part of it had to do with the fact I got little enjoyment from digging through mushy, cooked hay. The carrots served two ways (roasted and pureed) were delicious. The vinegar was deep and rich in colour and added some needed acid. The oranges were irrelevant from both a taste and presentation perspective.
For dessert, I opted for sesame ice cream. The ice cream was overpowered by odd taste of the sesame wafer. Perhaps I was spoiled by the artistry of the previous dishes because I was a little let down by the bland presentation of the dessert. Hell, a ground cherry/gooseberry (although not the season) would have been a colourful and tasty addition to the otherwise boring plate.
The Farmer’s apprentice has blasted up the charts and is cited as one of the best new restaurants in the country for it’s veggiephilic menu which focuses on fresh, local flavours. The food is creative, intelligent and unpredictable. The dessert wasn’t. Many other reviews state that the food makes up for any issues around service, the cryptic reservation policy or sitting within the cramped quarters of a rundown rural oasis within a bustling west coast urban centre. I disagree.
Much like the show with the same name, you enter the unknown and get exposed to trials and tribulations of trying to guess the way the ingredients will co-exist based on the loose description or the kinder egg philosophy of searching through soggy hay for a chance at an “oyster”. Like the apprentice, the fun and funky gamesmanship is overshadowed by the feeling of being judged. After all, you should feel privileged to be drinking from a enamel cup and opening a barn door to go to the washroom within one of Canada’s most touted restaurants. I couldn’t help but feel that with one wrong move or failed mission and the waitstaff would point in my direction and say “you’re fired” before sending me home in a waiting, yellow taxi.