LeFarm, Westport

 

"Roasted local potatoes with sunny-side egg, black truffles, porcini and ham" at LeFarm.

Julie Bidwell

LeFarm ★★★ ½ (Superior-Extraordinary)

When chef Bill Taibe opened his new restaurant, LeFarm in Westport last fall, he and some friends also acquired 12 acres of land in northern Fairfield County, an acre of which was quickly turned and sowed. Not that chef Taibe lacked small-farm sources—he’s been establishing unique relationships with local growers and artisans for years and building menus around what they produced, even when he was top toque at Napa in the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Stamford.

Now, with a small, 30-seat restaurant at his command, he is in his element, sourcing everything himself, cooking seasonally, spontaneously, letting the food inspire him. His rural acreage is LeFarm’s kitchen garden, a place where heirloom vegetables, rare herbs and unusual greens can be developed and featured on daily changing menus.

Tucked away in a courtyard complex on the Post Road, LeFarm’s exterior is so unobtrusive you could drive right by without noticing it if you didn’t know it was there. Westport, being Westport, knew it was there before it opened, and by now celebrities and media big shots (let’s not drop names) have blessed it with their presence.

But LeFarm is not about star power (although Bill Taibe is a star), it’s about hands-on cooking and green sprouts pushing through rich, loamy earth. The interior is a tongue-in-cheek chic evocation of a country-farmhouse kitchen—a crate of potatoes on the floor, barn-wood tables with cheesecloth runners (the first item on the menu is a selection of artisanal cheeses), utensils stuck in a jelly jar.

The menu, printed on dove-gray stock in a font that simulates a manual typewriter (is anybody around here old enough to have used one?), is hard to read in the admittedly romantic low light. A helpful staff member finds a flashlight for us, another guest uses the beam from his cell phone. I’d hate to be flooded with overhead lighting, but more candlepower on the table might be helpful.

The food on the menu, however, is approachable and bold, frequently going where more timid chefs fear to tread, with options ranging from an unabashedly old-fashioned chicken-liver starter to a blue-sky-yonder dessert of cornbread drizzled with maple syrup and topped with bacon and chili gelato.

Chicken liver used to be on every menu, then it was on none. LeFarm’s version, richly flavorful, whipped to the sensuous smoothness of satin and garnished with a dollop of shallot marmalade, reminds us what we’ve been missing.

Chef Taibe has a way with octopus, many ways in fact. Tonight it’s an extravaganza of confit potatoes, chorizo, herbs and spices. Gilding the lily? Not to worry, in this dish octopus is king of the sea, the attendant flavors mere acolytes. The texture of the octopus is perfectly tender-crisp, its clean ocean flavor subtly enhanced by the sweetness of fennel and the saltiness of Spanish sausage, with harissa supplying a tiny prickle of heat.

Portions are generous at LeFarm (what self-respecting farmhouse cook would serve a tiny dab of this or that?) and the menu is crisp and to the point, eschewing adjectives and adverbs but scrupulously listing ingredients. So I know full well that a starter of polenta, mushrooms, duck egg, truffles and roasted scallions will be a bit much—but I order it anyway, and I love it. If I encounter it again, I’ll order it as a main course.

In contrast “opah crudo” is the lightest, most elegantly minimalist appetizer imaginable. Tissue-thin slices of opah (a mild-flavored deep-ocean fish also called moonfish or kingfish) are citrus-cured, ceviche-style, and served with Meyer-lemon relish, pine nuts and a glisten of great olive oil.

Our main dishes are exceptionally pleasing, except for a lamb shoulder steak that is chewy verging on tough. It is tasty however, and a sharp steak knife has been supplied. The problem is that the lamb arrives atop a mound of soft polenta which it sinks into under the pressure of knife or fork. It’s hard to cut and each forkful ends up slathered with polenta, which blurs the flavor of the lamb and absorbs most of the juice.

Chicken, on the other hand, represents a glorious escape from the ubiquitous skinless chicken breast, my personal pet hate. Bill Taibe presents leg, thigh, breast and wing meat, each piece as juicy as the next. No supermarket chicken, this; it’s smaller and more tender, and served with root vegetables roasted with (now hear this) dates! Heirloom flavor with a dash of attitude, that’s Bill Taibe’s style.

Calf’s liver, another yesteryear favorite, arrives looking like filet mignon, but it is what it is—thick-cut, lightly seared on the outside, medium-rare, juicy and silky as filet mignon within. I’ve never seen calf’s liver cut this way, probably because it requires a flawless, sinew-free piece of liver and a hawk-eyed cook watching it every second it’s in the pan.

Taste, not complexity, is the goal at LeFarm and many dishes are the essence of simplicity. Pappardelle with Bolognese sauce is a delicious example. Wide ribbons of house-made pasta are topped with an elegant Bolognese made not with veal, beef and pork but with all veal, cream, and white wine, instead of red.

Of the desserts, fluffy, light, not-too-sweet ricotta cake with huckleberry sauce is the one I like best. But a classic panna cotta and creamy pumpkin cheesecake are good, too. The cornbread-maple syrup, bacon and chili-spiked gelato creation gets mixed reviews. Tracy likes it; I’d like it better sans maple syrup and Gloria refuses to take even the tiniest taste—not a grain, not a gram.

And so it goes at LeFarm, where adventurous eaters and traditionalists, gourmets and gourmands eat what they like, table-hop and chat while the chef cooks up a storm and staffers bustle about like friends helping out. It’s dinner on the farm.

LeFarm
256 Post Rd. E., Westport (203) 557-370
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Lunch Wednesday through Friday 12 till 2:30, dinner Wednesday through Saturday 5 to 9:30. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: small plates $12 to $21, entrées $14 to $35, desserts $10.
 

LeFarm, Westport

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