As a restaurant writer, I get invited to a lot of culinary events. Some are large media gatherings to check out a new restaurant, others to sample new menus. Those events were put on hold during the pandemic in favor of individual media visits.
Larger media gatherings have returned. I was fortunate to attend a spring menu tasting at Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens, along with two dozen other food writers and guests.
Summer may be drawing near, but Farmhouse owner and Chef Rich Mead knows that California has longer growing seasons and he can incorporate seasonal dishes no matter the time of year.
This casual farm-to-table tasting was held in Farmhouse’s new event space adjacent to the restaurant and its vast patio; see the May 9 print edition of the Business Journal for more on the growth and success of the Herbert family-owned Roger’s Gardens.
Many restaurants lay claim to the “farm-to-table” moniker. With Mead, it’s a given. He incorporates unique local and sustainable ingredients he sources during weekly trips to the Santa Monica Farmers Market and from other specialty purveyors, which he has been doing for nearly 20 years for Farmhouse and his previous Newport Beach restaurants Sage and Sage on the Coast.
The relationships Mead has cultivated with local farmers and ranchers is what has made Farmhouse the go-to spot for fresh, seasonal dishes and flavors. Even the Farmhouse bar program uses seasonal ingredients in its creative cocktails.
Mead has also cultivated a relationship with his clientele, which was important during the uncertain days of the pandemic when restaurants endured multiple restrictions.
“If you were in business for a long time and you were doing takeout, people would do it to support you and help you stay afloat,” Mead told me. “We were lucky that we have a lot of outdoor space. We have 100 seats, compared to a lot of other restaurants.”
For a time, Mead created and sold produce boxes filled with a week’s worth of fruits, vegetables and other staples.
“It helped support us and gave us cash flow,” Mead said. “We generated enough to keep people working. I feel responsible for a lot of people. I could go to the farmers market and buy produce from people who were my friends. When I had Sage restaurant, which was a real labor of love, I did not have a lot of money, so they used to give me items that were dinged up and I’d figure out how to utilize them. So, it’s a give and take.”
When Farmhouse first reopened its doors during the pandemic, Mead had separate lunch and dinner menus, but he was forced to rethink his dishes and decide how many people could be in the kitchen at one time prepping and cooking food.
“We reconditioned the air, kept the kitchen doors open, separated prepping areas with shower curtains, lengthened the day by bringing people in earlier and having two or three shifts,” Mead recalled. “I changed the menu and took away the extensive prep and decided to run the same menu all day.”
The OCBJ Review
The latest menu showcases Chef Rich Mead’s talent for creating dishes that reflect the ingredients.
The media tasting began with tray-passed prosciutto and Pink Lady apple pizza, and spaghetti squash and greens quesadilla with white cheddar cheese and peach salsa.
“This is a way for me to highlight the ingredients from the farmers that we work with. The tortilla that was with the quesadilla came from the Tehachapi Grain Project. I think the tortillas are wonderful, when I get something like this I try and create a dish that works with it. Another example is the butter from a farm up in Petaluma, its sheep’s milk and cow’s milk together, and the bread is from Rye Goods in Lido,” Mead said.
Next came a simple dish of roast coriander and cumin spiced carrots, so remarkably flavorful I had to ask where the carrots came from. The answer: Weiser Family Farms based in Tehachapi.
Next came grilled sugar snap peas with radish and roast turnups. Again, full of flavor and textures.
I know Mead likes to work with cod—it’s been on his menu before, but always with unique presentations. This time, he served us coriander and cumin crusted Icelandic cod with marinated cauliflower, shaved fennel, arugula, pureed roasted carrots, kumquat relish and pickled red onion. It’s a culinary cantata with the cod taking the lead while the other ingredients provide perfect accompaniment.
Next: grilled Autonomy Farms pasture raised flat iron steak with roast Magic Myrna potatoes, grilled asparagus, Dijon horseradish aioli, and black garlic and herb jus.
“The flat iron steak is pasture-raised near Paso Robles,” Mead said. “The beef would have been grass fed, but with the drought there was a lack of water so they were fed leftover beer mash. The aioli is like a bearnaise but not really, it’s good on the asparagus, it’s good for everything.”
Mead was right—I’d order some on the side for potatoes or anything else that calls for aioli.
According to Mead, desserts that are being added include strawberry rhubarb tart, which chocolate and berry cheesecake, and chocolate truffle cake.
We were instead served a unique treat: sweet potatoes with torched marshmallow cream and apple cider molasses. An instant hit at the media tasting.
By the way, the event space holds 30 people at one long table, and about 40 people with round tables. Menus for an event can be customized. Talk to Tony Romero at email@example.com about booking the space for your next private event.
Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens: 2301 San Juaquin Hills, Newport Beach (949) 640-1415, farmhouserg.com