February 23, 2010

A divine meal at Farm


It’s not often that I go out for a fancy dinner with a friend. J is my usual dining companion, and when he’s not around I don’t usually splurge on restaurant meals. So it was a huge treat to enjoy a fabulous meal at Farm in Calgary with my friend Gina last month.

Farm has gotten some play on local food blogs, which is how I first heard about it. Calgary cheesemaker Janice Beaton opened the tiny, small-plates restaurant in October 2008. Beaton’s eponymous cheese shop is tucked into the back of the restaurant (more on that later). I don’t know the Calgary dining scene well, but Farm seems to have filled a niche in the city for casual, beautiful dining and a focus on local ingredients.

It was definitely near the top of my list of restaurants to visit in Calgary. Because of a busy weekend, I knew I would only be able to go for supper at one place, and this was it. Gina loves food as much as I do and was happy with the choice.  


(Please excuse the blurry photos – I was using Gina’s camera which I wasn’t used to)

Farm is nestled in a small storefront along trendy 17th avenue. The rustic wooden sign hanging outside beckons you into the restaurant. Step inside the door, and the warmth is apparent. We were greeted by a friendly server who offered to take our coats, a small gesture that I always appreciate. Farm doesn’t take reservations, and we were seated at one of several two-person tables, by the window and right around the corner from the front door. One of my only complaints of the whole night was the chilly draft from the door opening and closing throughout our meal – it was a freezing January night. We were also close to the 12-person communal table and for a while we could barely hear each other talk over the noise level.

We sat down and looked around the restaurant, a narrow space stretching back from the street, with a long bar and open kitchen along one side. Charming was one word that immediately popped into my head. In fact I wouldn’t mind at all if my house was decorated like Farm.  The decor is clearly trying to conjure up images of a farmhouse. The tables are thick blond wood, and the mismatched wooden chairs and faded wood frames on the walls create a bohemian feel. But it’s cut through with chic elegance from large, old-fashioned teardrop chandeliers, a gilt-framed mirror, and clean white dishware. Striped cloth napkins and milk-bottle water pitchers add homey touches. Another table feature that immediately caught our eye was an old-fashioned teacup holding a single tealight – original and beautiful.


The specialties at Farm are cheese and charcuterie – which is why I was so excited to go there. The choices are printed on large black chalkboards at the back of the restaurant, and also on white strips of paper brought to your table. Both Gina and I love cheese, but we don’t know much about the many varieties, so we asked our waiter to explain the choices and make some recommendations. There was, however, one cheese on the menu that jumped out at me. Cave-aged gruyere. It’s the best cheese I’ve ever eaten in my life, and I told Gina we had to get it.

She was more than happy to comply, and we decided on five choices for $25 (you can also order one for $5.50 [but come on, why the hell would you?] or three for $15). Since Gina was keener on cheese than meat, we ordered four cheeses. It was hard to know what else from the small menu would work. How much food did we need? Again, we checked with our friendly waiter. We were both intrigued by the mashed peas and lemon ricotta spread with crostini, but he thought that would be too much cheese after a whole board of it (most of the plates do contain cheese in some form, including mac and cheese and grilled cheese). Instead we decided on the goat cheese fritter and spinach salad, and the miso-glazed sablefish with spaghetti squash and brussel sprouts.

First, the cheese board: an absolute delight. Each cheese or meat arrives with an accompaniment and sliced baguette. These were our pairings (from left to right):


} Migneron, a semi-firm cheese with shallot jam

} Roquefort Papillon, a blue cheese with wildflower honey

} Le Dauphin, a bloomy, soft cheese with fruit chutney (can’t remember the exact kind)

} Cave-aged gruyere, a hard cheese with tomato chile jam

} Valbella meats venison salami with brassica mustard

It was so much fun to construct tempting bites with the different parts of the plate. Everything was delicious, but we both agreed our two favourites were the gruyere and the roquefort. This gruyere is just stunning: it has a nutty, rich and creamy taste, despite being a hard cheese. It’s reminiscent of Parmesan, but a bit softer and more flavourful. It shone in the same bite with the tomato chile jam. The Roquefort was soft, rich and strong, and the honey combination was outstanding. The salami was great but we both found the mustard too overwhelming – same thing happened with the chutney and the Dauphin cheese.


The rest of the meal continued in cozy, luxurious morsels. The goat cheese fritter was well-executed, although I always forget that I’m not actually the biggest fan of ripened goat cheese – I find its flavour a bit too strong. The spinach salad had a tangy dressing and was dotted with grapefruit segments and fresh shaved fennel, making it bright and flavourful.

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This was only my second time eating sablefish – the first was at Cactus Club in Edmonton – and it was just as good as I remembered it. The preparation and taste were flawless. The fish was perfectly salted and melted in our mouths, and the vegetables were humble peasant stock all dressed up. The fish lay on a bed of buttery, rich spaghetti squash, surrounded by a ring of bright green brussels sprouts. They were split in half and pan-fried a golden brown, cooked to perfection – not too firm and not too soft. 


The portions at Farm aren’t big – hence the small-plates designation. But Gina and I had a great time sharing our food, each getting a chance to taste everything. The rustic nature of the evening continued with the dessert menu, which was printed typewriter-style on a large index card and laminated. What drew our eyes was the chocolate chip cookies – the perfect end to a simple but exquisite meal. They arrived warm on a flowered china plate, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. We only had room for two of the five but took the rest home. 

I was also intrigued by the chocolates Farm offers for dessert, made by Epiphanie Chocolates in Calgary. The price tag – $8 per chocolate, if I’m remembering right – turned me off, but they did sound amazing.


Our main server throughout the meal was fantastic, checking up on us just enough. The only misstep was another server who tried to take away our cheeseboard before we were done. She was met with a firm No.

I can’t wait to go back to Farm to try more cheese and more charcuterie, like the housemade pork rillette and the lamb liver pate. I can’t wait to go back for another warm, relaxing meal at a place that truly cares about the experience of wonderful food in a beautiful atmosphere.


When I went to the bathroom I snuck around the corner to check out the cheese shop – closed at that time. It’s small but beautiful, with a large glass cheese case and lots of specialty preserves and jams. I feel lucky that we have our own amazing cheese shop in Edmonton, Paddy’s Cheese. I discovered Cave-aged gruyere thanks to them!

1006 - 17 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
Tel. 403.245.2276

February 7, 2010

Spelt Pancakes


I've found a new favourite pancake recipe.

I've tried many pancake recipes over the years. My first favourite was the one my Mom used to make for us when we were kids. My house definitely wasn't the Bisquick kind, and this pancake is full of whole-wheat flour, wheat germ and cornmeal. It's from a Jane Brody cookbook that is literally falling apart - the book is now kept together with an elastic band and the page with the pancake recipe can be slid out as a single sheet of paper.


Those pancakes are delicious and healthy, but on the downside, they have many ingredients, so aren't exactly a throw-together recipe. (In fact, I remember my sister and I used to laugh about the thought of whipping these up for before-school breakfasts, as Jane suggests. Weekday breakfasts were toast, frozen waffles, or cereal. That's it.)

When J and I lived in our apartment in Charlottetown I started making other pancakes recipes. There were some good oat and walnut pancakes from a Moosewood cookbook, but the recipe I liked best was from Nigella Lawson's book Feast. They're called scotch pancakes, and they have only a few ingredients so they're easy to make fast.

I’ve been making Nigella’s pancakes for the past three years. Until a few weeks ago. That’s when pancakes seemed to hit the food blogosphere in a few different places all at once. I saw this recipe first, and the writer's thoughtful and beautiful post, combined with the simplicity of the recipe, convinced me to try them.


I was not disappointed. They are easy to put together, tasty and healthy. The spelt flour gives me them a nice nutty flavour, and with no sugar they are the perfect foil for a dousing of maple syrup. But I think the best part is that they cook up super fast in the pan and get nice and brown, the way good pancakes are supposed to look. I hate standing at the stove for ages when it's Sunday morning and all I want to do is sit down with the newspaper and a cup of tea, and admire the way the morning sun hits the kitchen table. It can be one of the most peaceful moments of the week. So why spoil it with too much cooking time? These pancakes are fast. Like, you-need-to-watch-them-so-they-don't-burn fast. That’s my kind of pancake.

This is now my go-to pancake recipe, but who knows how long that will last. What kind of pancakes do you like?


As the original recipe says, I think these would be good with all kinds of fruits. I'd like to try frozen blueberries next. When I added the apple slices you see in the photo above, that side of the pancake didn't really cook enough for me, so I think I'd prefer little fruits mixed in.