I wrote about chef Michael Farber’s Beechwood Avenue restaurant a few months after it opened. My take in 2008: great food, shame about the service.
I returned to Farbs twice in 2010, not for this column, but for Capital Dining, my guidebook to the region’s better restaurants. I needed to know if the place was book-worthy. I decided to include it, but not without a disclaimer about the front of the house, which still seemed to be in training, still debasing the obvious prowess in the kitchen.
So here we are again, about a year since my last visits, Farbs poised to enter its fourth year of business, and I keen to change my tune.
Following a bunch of meals this spring and summer, the verses are mostly sound. We begin one night with an impressive amuse bouche of Albacore tuna and roasted pepper, tempered with luscious Allegretto cheese, the assembly balanced on a crostini. A tartare of elk is an inspired dish, the careful chop of raw meat perked with Thai aromatics (lime leaves, cilantro, lemongrass, galangal) served with house-made pickles and addictive chips. A rich, creamy feta perks a roasted pear and almond salad, and a deeply bronzed showcase of a bird, served with good gnocchi, is quite possibly the best roast chicken of the year. Full marks too for the perfectly cooked squash ravioli, paddling about in a classic sage brown butter sauce, with roasted garlic and bacon lardon. And for the gooey ribs, slightly sour with the more grownup flavour of tamarind and served with a smoky white bean cassoulet with bacon, roasted corn, peppers and peaches.
Of the sour notes – and there aren’t many – a squash soup perfumed with pumpkin pie spices has a wan squash flavour, and the scallops (with French lentils, bok choy, and a sesame-carrot salad) are a bit overdone.
A trio of summery sorbets was the way to end one meal (the dessert menu is weighty with frozen things – about right on sultry summer nights) and sweet little cookies come with the bill.
But the chorus I weary of writing just won’t go away: great food, shame about the service.
At one visit, the amuse bouche took 40 minutes to arrive. We waited another two hours for our mains. Orders were mixed up. Duck came instead of the tomato salad. We dared not send it back, partly because it was gorgeous, meat generously mounded over farmers’ market greens tossed with a raisin vinaigrette, candied spiced walnuts and veiny lumps of wonderful Roche Noire cheese. But it took an hour to show up and we didn’t dare report the error. Nor did we dare ask for an espresso at the end of the night. There was a queue at the door. One girl was manning the bar, the second was making coffees for a large table. No one was greeting, seating, let alone noticing our water glasses had been empty for an hour. A few weeks later, it was pretty much the same story. Even when Farbs is not busy, as it was one dinner, there’s something missing. Let’s call it hospitality, neighbourliness. Food is delivered with a lacklustre spirit. The room feels unloved.
It’s obvious that Farbs cares deeply about the provenance of ingredients and the attention with which they are prepared and presented, but what about the dining experience? Michael Farber is in his kitchen; that’s a good thing. He just needs someone who cares just as much as he does to stand watch at his door.