The Bachelor Farmer

The Bachelor Farmer opened in Minneapolis a couple of years ago to great fanfare. This partly because the restaurant’s owners are the sons of Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton; and partly, I suspect, because the restaurant’s commitment to the New Nordic ethos made the Twin Cities’ dining scene seem more current. National recognition soon followed with headliner status in a New York Times article on a broader Scandinavian food revival in the region; and Bon Appetit listed it as one of the best new restaurants of 2012. And, of course, it’s been endlessly feted in the local publications.

We’d talked about eating there for a while, but since our opportunities to eat dinner out are rather limited (we live an hour away from the cities and have two small children) and since our previous experiences with many of the other lauded restaurants in the cities have yielded middling (Heartland, Heidi’s) to hugely disappointing (La Belle Vie) results we tend to always end up at either Alma or 112 Eatery where we’re rarely disappointed. It seems to me that some critics and foodies alike in the area sometimes want the food scene here, and particular restaurants to be better than they actually are. A combination perhaps of both midwestern generosity and midwestern/transplant anxiety about keeping up with (life in) the A-list metros.

Anyway, when the missus’ birthday rolled around recently we decided to finally check out the Bachelor Farmer. Herewith my review.

[Please bear in mind that while some aspects of this review could be said to be of the restaurant (the service style, the approach to wine, the feel of the place) this is, by and large, a review of one meal there; the kitchen may be capable of better or worse than we experienced.]

Our reservation was for 9.15 on a Saturday night, and while that’s late by Minnesota standards, the Bachelor Farmer was bustling when we arrived, and indeed was still seating people not too long before we left an hour and a half later. The initial hype may have died down but it’s clearly still very popular, and based on the people around us, still quite trendy. The space itself is very nice–in what we might call the modern-rustic style–and rather casual: the tables are very close together, the wait-staff is dressed in jeans etc. and the restaurant is rather noisy. These days these things are not necessarily negative indications of a kitchen’s seriousness so we were interested to see what the food would be like. (No pictures as the low light in the restaurant defeated the sensor of my crappy camera.)

Things began promisingly with a plate of crisp radishes and good salt and crackers and butter presented with the menu. Yes, I’m praising the radishes. I believe the restaurant has a roof-top veg garden but I ‘m not sure if they grow all their own produce or only a small part of it. On to our order. To start we split the following:

  • Yellow pea soup, roasted pork rib and shank, fairytale eggplant, torn bread. (This was from the Appetizers section.)
  • Duck rillettes, pickled kohlrabi, oyster mushrooms, radishes, chives. (This was from the Toasts section.)

Both of these were rather good; the soup in particular was very good, with a nice harmony of flavours and textures. The rilletes themselves were okay, but all the other stuff on the plate was very good. This, as it turned out, was an unfortunate harbinger of the next part of our meal.

  • Grilled pheasant sausage, purple majesty potatoes, broccoli Romanesco, oyster mushroom, sorrel aioli
  • Duck breast, purple top turnips, young carrots, braised radishes, créme fraîche

The pheasant sausage was the missus’s, the duck breast was mine, but we each partook of the other’s entree.

In sum, the vegetables on both plates were of a very high quality and done very well. The sorrel aioli with the sausage was wonderful and the romanesco was perfectly cooked as were the vegetables with the duck. Unfortunately, this was not true of the sausage or duck. My duck breast, which was supposed to be medium-rare was a touch over medium (the server never checked and I didn’t make a fuss as we were on the clock with a babysitter); more disappointingly, it didn’t taste particularly ducky. The pheasant sausage, similarly, had more pheasant in its name than on the palate. This is, of course, not hugely surprising as game in general is not very dependable in American restaurants, but there was nothing else about the sausage that made it seem like anything more than a slightly fancy brat (and it was presented as a single, unattractive link). Now, I’m not suggesting that my duck was not duck or that something else was passed off as pheasant; merely that the care evident with the vegetables was not apparent in the meats, and this is a problem when the meats are what are driving the prices ($27 for the duck, and $22 for the sausage).

I realize that root vegetables are the emphasis of New Nordic cuisine–and there are some who say that root vegetables express terroir better than anything else that might be put on a plate. And, as I’ve noted, the vegetables were uniformly done very well. However, the meats were amateur hour and that’s just not acceptable. This may be old-fashioned of me, but if “duck breast” are the first two words in the description of the dish I want the duck breast to not be an afterthought on the plate. (By the way, if terroir and locavorism means that the “market fish of the day” is walleye, as it was that night, then terroir and locavorism can go fuck themselves; perhaps with a crisp radish.)

Desserts also did not rise far above the acceptable level. Nothing seemed particularly exciting but as we’re greedy we split the following anyway:

  • Warm apple-currant pie, créme diplomat
  • Valrhona Araguani chocolate mousse, espresso cream, pistachio Florentine

The best part of either of these was the Florentine.

Their approach to the wine list is refreshing and also indicative of the general casual attitude of the place. Everything on the (not-very extensive) wine list can be ordered either by the bottle or as a half bottle. If you order a half bottle the rest goes on a board in the dining room for sale by the glass. This did make me wonder if one could be entirely sure of how long something on the board might have been open but that evening at least they seemed to be doing a brisk business in disposing of the remainders. We started with a half bottle of a Riesling, a 2005 Auslese from Geschwister Simon Ayler Kupp, and to follow I had a glass of a Gamay/Pinot Noir blend, Domaine Nebout, 2011. Both were fine and priced fairly.

On the whole, it was not a bad meal but it was far from great as well. Things in general read much better than they tasted. That said, the appetizer and the “toast” (this part of the menu, by the way, is an ironic homage to Minnesotan tradition) were both very good and we could see coming back with friends and just sharing a larger number of things from that end of the menu.

Total with tax and tip was $156.

We are going to resist running back to the arms of Alma for our next meal out–the plan is to hit up Tilia. Hopefully, it will live up to the talk about it a little better than the Bachelor Farmer did for us.

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