Farm House Café
ONE OF THE MYRIAD JOYS of traveling in France is that whatever village you’re staying in will have at least one fabulous little restaurant. Often run by a hard-working husband and wife——he in the kitchen, she waiting tables——it will offer a splendid showcase of the fish, game, produce, cheese and wines of the region. The menu may be short, the décor simple, but the heart and soul of the proprietors and their commitment to creating memorable dishes from fresh ingredients make these finds a constant source of delight.
The concept works equally well on San Diego’s Adams Avenue, where another hard-working husband and wife are drawing crowds hungry for a taste of French home cooking. And what cooking it is, ranging from the simple glory of a spring vegetable soup to classic canard a l’orange.
At their Farm House Café (open since February), Olivier and Rochelle Bioteau have drawn on their years of experience at other owners’ restaurants to create a lively bar and bistro all their own. A flock of wooden ducks marches down one side of the small dining room, furnished with an antique sideboard, utilitarian wood tables and chairs and wrought-iron chandeliers. A long, Ushaped bar allows a glimpse into the kitchen, while out front, small tables beckon on the sidewalk——a coveted spot on summer evenings.
But you’re here for the food, not the décor, so let’s get to it.
Soup, inspired by what’s in peak season at the local marché, is a staple of French kitchens, and Bioteau’s green garlic potage ($7) was superb. Fashioned from the mild young shoots of the garlic plant, this mellow salute to spring was smartly set off with a dollop of tangy blue-cheese cream. (Expect to see summer’s finest tomatoes and herbs starring in August’s soup lineup.) Equally satisfying was the chicken-liver mousse, whipped to exquisite smoothness, seasoned and gently simmered for exceptional depth of flavor ($8). And while everybody’s doing cara melized-onion flatbread these days, Bioteau’s version rises above the cliché with a crisp crackerbread base forming a sturdy platform for oodles of sweet onions, sprinkles of bacon and a splash of balsamic vinegar ($8).
About a half-dozen entrées are offered along with a nightly special on the blackboard——one night, a lobster ravioli ($20). A refreshingly hearty take on an often froufrou dish, these al dente pasta pockets concealed plenty of lobster, plus additional claw meat on the side. A drizzle of watercress purée added little to the creamy sauce, but bodacious bites of roasted, red-pepper oilseasoned cauliflower certainly contributed.
On the regular menu, which changes seasonally, stand outs were the fresh Mexican corvina sea bass ($19) and lamb fettucine (a great bargain at $16). The latter swirls Moroccan seasonings like cardamom, saffron and cinnamon with freshly ground lamb and garlic into a feisty bolognese topped, perfectly, with lemon zest confit. (Pair this with a glass of peppery Corbieres from France’s Languedoc.)
And the buttery corvina, fresh from San Felipe and seared with skin on, seemed custom made for a reduction of white wine, cream and fish stock the chef first concocted in a posh London eatery eons ago.
The aforementioned duck a l’orange ($20) is sauced a tad sweetly and sliced a bit thinly for our tastes, but Yukon Gold gratin on the side hit the jackpot. Served in a petite casserole pot, these roasted, almost transparent pommes de terre added a welcome rustic touch to the presentation.
Bioteau is a certified chocolatier, and his chocolate cake ($7) proves it. Dense and fudgy, yet light-handed, paired with caramel cream, it’s the savvy choice over a ho-hum cheese plate ($10) that paired four minuscule selections with candied walnuts and apricot chutney. A golden glass of Sau ternes, also $10, makes a fine liquid dessert. While the wine list is quite short, it offers little treasures like the Sauternes, Ferrari-Carano’s Sauvignon Blanc, the Corbieres and a Provence rosé made for summer sipping.
Rochelle Bioteau, an attorney by trade, has spent years in the restaurant biz, from Il Fornaio in Del Mar to Laurel near downtown (she and Olivier met along the way). She drops by at night, and the couple have hired an experienced, friendly staff who generally do a fine job of knowing the menu and keeping water glasses refilled.
Our only concern here is the noise factor. With its painted brick walls, low, flat ceilings, closely spaced tables and concrete floors, the Farm House is a cacophony of reflected conversations that rises and falls like a series of tsunamis. Numerous times, we had to pause, mid-sentence or mid-order, just as the musicals at the Starlight Bowl halt midsong for the jets overhead. A lively scene is a great thing, but the café is crying out for some tapestries on the walls and acoustic tile on the ceiling.
That said, we’re pleased to raise our glass ——if not our voice——to this charming new French connection in town.
The Farm House Café serves dinner Tuesday- Sunday and brunch Saturday and Sunday at 2121 Adams Avenue, University Heights, 619-269-9662; farmhousecafesd.com.