28 March 2009

Dinner with a friend at Founding Farmers, Washington, DC

I’ve got a review coming up for a DC restaurant called Agraria. The North Dakota Farmers Union developed the concept and is a part owner. I like entertaining groups of farmers there when I bring them to Washington. The only thing I don’t like about Agraria is that while its location is very scenic, it’s a long way from Capitol Hill. So it’s not ideal for groups who are spending their day tramping the Hill in support of ag issues.

So I was excited to hear that a sister restaurant, Founding Farmers, recently opened on Pennsylvania Avenue. Still not the closest to the Hill, but somewhat more convenient than Georgetown. The name is apt for many reasons. It calls to mind the phrase ‘founding fathers,’ an appropriate reference in our nation’s capital. It also should remind us that George Washington and many of our nation’s founders were in fact farmers. And lastly, it’s a reference to the fact that some of the restaurant’s founders are farmers.

I invited a friend and colleague to join me for a visit to Founding Farmers. Though she’s originally from Oklahoma herself, when I met her, she was working for North Dakota Sen. Quentin Burdick, and she’s become something of an adopted North Dakotan herself. She had just gotten back from a trip to Paris, so we had lots of food talk to cover.

Founding Farmers has a very extensive menu. You can get a full, multi-course meal, or stick with something light. They have lots of small plates, several entrée salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes. We didn’t order it, but they have a very interested cheese plate selection. All of the cheeses on the menu are domestic. They have three different price points - $14, $16, or $18. Presumably, each level offers something more unique or challenging. I definitely want to try that on some future visit.

On this visit, we started with the ‘Devilish Eggs Combo.’ This consists of a platter of deviled eggs in various styles and with various ingredients. There’s classic deviled eggs and deviled eggs with lobster, crab, and salmon. It was very unique and fun.

For our entrées, Vicki ordered the plank salmon. I had rock fish, which was one of the evening’s ‘fresh catch’ choices. The fresh catch can be prepared four different ways – with sea salt, cracked pepper, and lemon, with roasted hazelnut butter, Meuniere style, or Napa Provencal. I had mine with sea salt, cracked pepper, and lemon.

The food all was very good. But I made a mistake. I wanted to have a glass of wine with my meal. I was thinking a sauvignon blanc. I looked at the white wines on the menu, but all of the sauvignon blancs were Southern Hemisphere wines. Now, its not that I’m ideologically opposed to Southern Hemisphere wines. In fact, a couple weeks ago, I had a sauvignon blanc from Chili and liked it so much that I bought half a case to have at home. But for a restaurant that brags about local food and U.S. farmers, I kind of made up my mind that I wanted a domestic wine.

So instead of a South African sauvignon blanc, I convinced myself that a domestic pinot noir would be ok with fish. Well, it wasn’t. The wine was good. The food was good. It’s just that they didn’t go well together. So I guess is should have either gone with an imported sauvignon blanc, or with a California chardonnay.

Overall, I liked Founding Farmers quite a lot. I definitely will return. But it wasn’t perfect. Vicki said that on her earlier visit, the service was slow. It wasn’t a lot better on this visit. (I didn’t fault our server. He was very friendly and quite helpful. It’s just that he wasn’t around to help us when we wanted him.) As we were leaving, Vicki introduced me to a North Dakota Farmers Union official who she knows. He asked about our meal, and when Vicki told him about the service, he grimaced and commented that they still need to work on that.

Lastly, as much as I liked Founding Farmers, I was disappointed to learn that it does not have private dining rooms. So I didn’t achieve my original objective of finding a new place to use for group dinners.

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