Sunday, November 09, 2008

FARM restaurant, Calgary

Everybody has a type, right?

If you’ve got a shaved head, glasses, a couple of conspicuous tattoos and can use the work chagrin in a sentence, I will give you my number. And that’s just the ladies.

In the same way that we humans often have an ideal partner-type, we food lovers often have a restaurant type. For some, it’s the linen-lapped formality of a Michelin three star place. Others love a gastro-pub, all stripped wood floors and a terrine. Many like a TGI Fridays, although there’s nothing for them to see on this blog.

Et moi? Well, I’m a sucker for those casual places that source great ingredients and just let them speak for themselves. I love cutsey, often mis-matched plates. Really, really fine wine glasses. Menus written on chalk-boards. A bar where you can dine alone. Small-plate menus that are made for sharing. Wait staff with piercings.

I was getting slightly depressed by the lack of these kinds of places in Calgary. But one just opened. And I *heart* it.

Janice Beaton has been a bit of culinary lighthouse for me over the past couple of months. Her cheese stores (Janice Beaton’s Fine Cheese) on 17th Ave and in Kensington prove that the restorative powers of a brie de meaux cannot go underestimated.

So the opening of her first restaurant is a big deal. Some say it’s based on Salt in Vancouver, but as I chatted to Janice, it’s clear that this place is all about her passion. Her passion for cheese and for bringing people together over food.

The format is simple. One list of 28g serves of cheese and meats, served on boards with a compliment. So your 3 year old Canadian cheddar is paired with a beautiful tomato relish. A chalkboard of daily muses, offers up the “specials” which generally include a soup, a salad and a couple of other dishes. The roasted tomato soup was sensational; creamy (although it contained no cream) with a hint of spice and a sludge of onions. The trout salad, served with a lemon-chevre mousse, caperberries and baguette croutons, was a very grown-up, deconstructed take on a smoked salmon bagel. These might not be here when you go, but there will surely be something equally delicious to tempt you.

What I can be sure of is that even without the specials, the short little menu has enough to capture your interest. Order the mac and cheese. Get the large one and fantasise about bathing in the mustardy, cheesy sauce and exfoliating with the crumb topping. The JBFC goat cheese fritter is also worthy of investigation, but you don’t need me to wax lyrical about the virtues of fried cheese. The confit duck salad, with arugala and spinach, is lifted to the sublime by some toasty hazelnuts and dried apple chips. The kitchen really knows how to get the most of their, often local, ingredients by adding in texture. This is simple food, with no superfluous flavours.

The drinks list including sherry, port, stickies, international and local beers, ciders and bubbles. The wine list has a really good selection by the glass and some which even come in even tinier tasting pours. I can’t move on from the pouilly fumè at the moment, but they have a couple of vinho verde which I need to try.

As we sat, munching, on Friday night, I turned to my expat friend and said “Tonto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” This restaurant is what Calgary needs and it really raises the bar here. It would flourish in any major city. There would be a line round the block if this opened in London. It’s modern, sexy, cosy, delicious and I want to live here. The only problem is that they don’t take reservations, and if they keep up the good work, it’s going to be impossible to get a table very soon.

FARM is at 1006 17th Avenue SW Calgary. Call 403.245.2276 if there are more than eight of you. That’s the only way to get a reservation.

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