The “farm to table” movement—or “field to fork,” or “farm to plate,” and so on—has been gaining traction in every corner of the country, and Albuquerque’s newest member of this growing club didn’t mince words when deciding on its name. After a long winter of teasing us via its Facebook page, Farm & Table finally opened on Fourth Street between Paseo and Alameda. The setting is gorgeous, inside and out. The food walks the walk and is reasonably priced for what you get. And the chef, Ka’ainoa Ravey, is a freaking genius.
Consider the braised South Valley pork belly, served in four little square slabs, each about an inch across, drizzled in butterscotch miso sauce and garnished with apple slices. The pieces were just small enough to make me consider popping the whole thing in my mouth, rather than biting each in half. The restraint was rewarded with an oral-gasm reminiscent of foie gras—but it was slightly chewier, with a meaty texture that reminded me I wasn’t eating liver. I was glad to experience that decadence with a glass of Gruet Pinot Noir in hand, the finest glass of New Mexican wine yet to cross my lips.
We sat in the spacious courtyard that overlooks 10 acres of farm fields. Most of the land is in alfalfa, but an acre and a half is tended by “farmers-in-residence”: Ric Murphy of Sol Harvest and Erin and Patrick Rich of Hip Chik Farms, both of whom sell to the public at area markets in addition to supplying the restaurant. Though it’s early in the season, the field is already producing greens. And while much of the restaurant’s produce is from right there, food also comes from Peñasco, Deming, Mesilla, the South Valley, Santa Ana Pueblo, Lemitar, Estancia, Bernalillo and other places around the state.
These ingredients are celebrated in the salads, including a farmer’s blend of local greens and tomatoes—a generous portion of grilled Bernalillo chicken can be added for just $3 extra—and a quinoa and roasted root salad. Both were appropriately dressed, said my salad adviser, who gave her rare approval to both. The vanilla parsnip puree underneath a cauliflower-based “couscous” entrée was dense and rich with an earthy sweetness. An entrée-sized appetizer of tempura-fried pickled vegetables beneath slabs of seared tofu, with a soy-based dipping sauce tasting subtly of cinnamon, was dazzling.
Besides the occasional piece of tofu or drop of citrus or vanilla, just about the only non-Zia items to be found on the menu are seafood, and any complaints we could muster at this were swallowed by the sound of crickets in the field. As mind-expanding as the pork belly was, Chef Ravey’s seafood was on another level entirely, as one might expect from the talented Hawaiian. Fortunately, locavore cred was preserved on each plate with plenty of reminders of where we are and what season it is. A special salmon filet in a saffron miso glaze reclined on a bed of mushroom quinoa. Also on the plate: a pile of steam-kissed fresh-picked pea greens that held a portion of gingery salmon tartar that reminded me of Hawaiian poke. That salmon choice came at the expense of the scallop entrée with bacony Brussels sprouts, white bean puree and assorted bits of molecular gastronomy—apple foam and faux caviar made from vanilla and balsamic vinegar.
I was hoping to catch up with those scallops on my return visit for brunch, but alas, it wasn’t an option. I settled for a garden omelet, speckled with veggies and chunks of local chorizo. Although the brunch contained fewer surprises and didn’t reprogram my taste buds the way the dinner menu did, it was damn good.
Dessert, on the other hand, gave dinner a run for its money. The sorbet trio included vanilla citrus, blackberry coffee and carrot apple sorbets, garnished with dehydrated slices of lime, orange and apple, respectively. All three had amazing flavor, although the texture of the apple carrot sorbet fell short—it was more like half-frozen juice than the perfectly creamy consistency of the other two. Hours later, the postre I fell asleep muttering about was the pastel imposible, an impossibly good spheroid of flourless chocolate torte with a hint of red chile, upon which was fused a layer of vanilla flan. If only the coffee had arrived at the same time, and not five minutes later. But rough spots like this are like temporary blemishes on a half-cut gem. Give this place another month, and I fully expect it to sparkle.
The bill brought a shock of a different sort. After ordering with the kind of hedonistic abandon that only the rich and those who aren’t paying (and restaurant critics) can enjoy, the tab was just $100. That’s two salads, two appetizers, two entrées, two glasses of wine, two desserts, a cup of excellent coffee and a cup of tea. Affordability has long been the Achilles heel of fine dining. I’m thrilled to see that Farm & Table has apparently solved this riddle.