Thursday, 22 August 2013
Farmer's Apprentice: South Granville's New Locavore Champion
Tastiness Factor: 9/10
Locavore Approved? HECK YA!- The menu changes daily based on availability of local ingredients. The chef, Dave Gunawan, buys his produce from farmers that I meet every weekend at the Farmer's Market (Klipper's Organic Acres, Sole Foods Urban Farms, North Arms Farm, etc.). Although there is quite a bit of meat on the menu (he is, after all, the ex-Wildebeast chef), he certainly has a way with veggies which he demonstrates in his vegetarian dishes and in his use of vegetables in the non-vegetarian dishes. All the meat is organic and non-medicated, while the seafood is all Oceanwise-approved. On the whole, his ingredients are purported to be 95% local. What more could a locavore ask for?
It was with great anticipation that Hubby and I made our way to the newly-opened Farmer's Apprentice this past Friday night. I had first discovered it back in May before it even opened as I was walking home on my way from Beaucoup Bakery one afternoon. The sign was lying on the sidewalk, ready to be put up, and, because it contained the word "farmer", it immediately caught my eye. I googled the name when I got home and was ecstatic to find out that it was a new restaurant, specializing in local fare and led by Dave Gunawan, the renowned ex-chef of Wildebeast. That such a promising new restaurant would be in such close proximity to our condo was big news indeed!
Farmer's Apprentice, opened on July 16th, is located in a tucked-away spot right off Granville at 6th. It is in the space of that was previously occupied by the short-lived Pig and Mortar, owned by the guys who operate Pig on the Street, Hubby's favourite food truck (not opened long enough for Hubby to even try it!). On the Farmer's Apprentice website (still under construction), there is a welcome page that speaks of its mission to make itself accessible to everyone by providing a comfortable space and by catering to the needs of its guests, whether that be lunch, an mid-afternoon cocktail or a multi-course dinner. They are currently opened for lunch (11am-2:30pm) and dinner (5:30-10pm), on Tuesday-Saturday.
Outside is a small dining area with two tables that can accommodate groups of 6-8. On a warm evening like the night we visited, it may be a wise choice to request one of these "al fresco" tables, as the small space inside tends to become pretty warm, especially when the room is full. Having said that, the inside is very charming, with decor that is rustic yet stylish. There are pitch forks scattered around the walls, with wooden accents. I like to think of it as "Farmhouse-Chic". There was not a spare table to be had on the night that we visited, and although it did heat up the room a bit more than we might have liked, it certainly gave the space an energetic "buzz", full of happy guests enjoying good food, wine and company. Every new restaurant's dream come true! I also really appreciated the large, open kitchen where I could watch all the action from my table (including the the chefs using the Big Green Egg at the back- such a cool rig!). On a future visit, I would like to try sitting at the bar, where the view of the kitchen is better and one may potentially catch a word or two with Dave Gunawan or his sous-chefs.
Just like the atmosphere, service was approachable and casual. We had one main server who was very accommodating and knowledgeable, and he was happy to ask the chef which farm had supplied the tomatoes used in our starter so that I could find them at the Farmer's Market the next day). He took care of our drink and food orders, and regularly checked in to make sure everything was to our liking. Most of our dishes were served by the kitchen staff themselves which I thought was a nice touch. It was a treat to meet those talented young men and women preparing our food! Aside from our main server and the kitchen staff, there was also other staff milling about to make sure that water was replenished and wine glasses topped up. The high guest-server made for notably personalized service. We were also quite impressed with the speed at which our dishes flew out of the kitchen onto our table, especially considering how busy the restaurant was on that Friday evening.
Based on what I ate at the Farmer's Apprentice, the food style is Pacific Northwest with a hint of both French and Asian influences. The menu changes almost daily, with some of the most popular dishes staying on the menu as long as the ingredients are still locally available. There are 10-12 savoury dishes on the menu daily, plus 2-3 desserts. Dishes are meant to be shared between guests, and about 5-6 dishes/couple should suffice for a light meal (you will need more if you go hungry and/or you do not order the bread). I have really come to enjoy this sharing plate format which many of the new restaurants have embraced (Burdock and Co., Sardine Can, PidGin) as it gives you the opportunity to try many dishes in one visit. With a group of 5-6 people, you could easily order every dish on the menu to share. I am already recruiting friends for a return visit!
The drink menu includes a short but sweet selection of beer and wine (some local options, with a good number of European wines as well). They also have a few cocktails to choose from, which are also locally-inspired. I had the Elderflower Dollhouse, made with gin and elderflower syrup. It was light and refreshing (perfect for summer!) with the perfect balance of bitter and sweet. And look how pretty that cup is!
Now to the main attraction, the food! Hubby and I chose 3 dishes each for a total of 6 that we "shared" (he ate most of the meat dishes, and I ate most of the veg dishes). Here they are:
Beyond Bread Sourdough, Onion Butter, Olive Oil- This was an obvious pick for carb-loving Hubby. This would not have been a pick for me, but I must admit that Hubby was right on the mark with this one for several reasons. First of all, the bread, made at a nearby artisan bakery in Kitsilano, was right up my alley- hearty and dense, with lots of grains and seeds. Secondly, onion butter was a unique accompaniment that paired perfectly with the bread's flavour. Lastly, and most importantly, it was the perfect vessel for soaking up all of the amazing sauces of the other dishes which would have been a real shame to have to leave on the plate! The half loaf, meant to tear apart (so much more fun than using a knife!) was served in an adorable little bag that fit the "Farmhouse Chic" theme perfectly!
Heirloom tomato salad with shaved melon (feature dish)- This dish was all about the tomato. These tomatoes, at the peak of their season, were firm, sweet and juicy, as every perfect tomato should be. And, for an extra punch of tomato, there was a layer of gazpacho underneath that acted as a dressing of sorts. Its flavours were amazingly fresh, and I could not help but to spoon up every last drop. The shaved melon on top added another textural element as well as another layer of sweetness. I really appreciated how the chef did not overcomplicate this dish. With such a beautiful product as these tomatoes from Klippers Organics and Sole Foods (two of my favourite market stops), why would you ever ever want to?
Charcoal Grilled Beans, Ricotta, Dates- Upon spying them on the menu, Hubby (the carnivore) was most excited about the sweetbreads (obviously his pick!), but shockingly, these greens beans ended up being his favourite dish of the evening! The beans were grilled on the Big Green Egg, elevating these naturally delicious, local greens beans to a whole other level. Who knew that one could achieve such an intense char on a green bean? Underneath was a pool of house-made ricotta that I again found myself spooning up every last bite. The dates, although seemingly simple, knocked it right out of the park. This is about as close to perfection as you can get.
Fresh Scallops, Ikura, Blackberry, Smoked Potato- This was admittedly our least favorite dish of the evening. We found the scallops a little underdone, and lacking the sear that we are accustomed to. We also found the presentation a bit "blah" with the white scallops and potatoes on white sauce. On the positive side, I quite enjoyed the saltiness of the Ikura (salmon roe) as it was used in this dish (I am usually not a roe fan). I also quite enjoyed the creamy sauce, with its hint of smokiness.
Sweetbreads, Shallot Emulsion, Charcoal Cauliflower, Jus Parisienne- Hubby was quite excited about this dish, as sweetbreads are a relatively rare find on menus these days, at least in Vancouver.
And these sweetbreads really made the mark- tender with a perfect sear. There was an interesting combo of flavours on the plate, with a bit of French flair from the jus and then a dash of Asian from the shallot emulsion. The cauliflower, again done on the Green Egg added nice balance to this otherwise heavy dish.
Halibut, smoked gnocchi, Chanterelles, Sauce Barigoule- This was sadly our last dish of the evening after being treated to such tasty dishes by Chef Gunawan. It had been recommended to me by others as one of his "standout" dishes and fortunately, we were not disappointed. The perfectly cooked halibut was accompanied by a light cream-based sauce which we once again eagerly moped up with our bread. The gnocchi were nicely prepared, with a very subtle smokey flavor that complimented, rather than overwhelmed, the other elements on the plate. A very well-executed dish.
After these 6 courses, our appetites had been satiated, and therefore we opted to forego dessert, however they do offer quite intriguing dessert options created around local, seasonal foods. The night that we visited, the desserts were focused on summer fruits (berries, peaches) that are so abundant right now. We will have to save some room to try dessert the next time we visit!
I feel so fortunate to have Farmer's Apprentice in my neighborhood. This restaurant is great at so many different levels. From the local sourcing of ingredients, to the renowned and very talented chef, to the pleasing space, Farmer's Apprentice is the whole package. See ya again soon, I will not be able to stay away for long:)