It wasn’t easy getting a reservation at The Bachelor Farmer on a Saturday night for six friends who wanted to experience this trendy new restaurant in Minneapolis. They could fit us in at 8:30. We felt lucky to get the reservation. After all, the restaurant was a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best New Restaurant Midwest. President Obama dined here when he was in Minneapolis earlier this year. So we were excited.
My wife and I decided to go early and get a drink at the similarly acclaimed bar downstairs – Marvel Bar. The connection is a little unclear. It appears that the ownership is the same, but management may be different. (Bachelor Farmer has its own bar adjacent to its dining room.) Our server, way cooler than both of us put together, was friendly and helpful in figuring out what we’d like from the creative cocktail menu. The drinks were good. But then came the first glitch. I asked him if he’d take a photo of us, and he politely declined. “We’re not supposed to take photos,” he said. I didn’t press him to find out why.
At 8:30, we headed upstairs and joined our friends who were already seated and had started to peruse the menu. As I looked over the menu, there was a caution not to take photos using a flash. So I guess they just don’t want their customers taking photos. Must not be the cool thing to do.
Our group tried a lot of items on the menu. Some were good. Some missed the mark. Of our starter plates, I particularly liked the duck liver pate and the dill-cured bass with crème fraiche. They were served with wedges of toasted bread. I’m sure that’s the really cool way to do it.The pate was smooth and creamy and had an excellent liver flavor. The dill-cured bass tasted fresh and light.
I had high hopes for the scallops and smoked salmon sausage, but didn’t really like how it all came together. We had hoped to try the mushroom ragu, but sadly, they were out of it by the time we ordered it. Our friends ordered the beets cooked in duck fat and served with fresh cow’s milk cheese. It looked very nice, and they all seemed to like it. But neither my wife nor I particularly like beets, so we didn’t try it.
Other reviewers on Yelp commented that there aren’t many choices among the entrées on the menu. We found that to be true as well. My wife and I both ended up ordering duck confit. It was very flavorful, but also not very distinctive – good but not memorable. I’d just had really great duck the last time we went out with one of the couples. If there had been more options on the menu, I might have ordered something different. (If they had a steak on the menu, I probably would have ordered that. But I guess steak isn’t cool.) The duck was served with a turnip puree which was fairly bland and too runny. However there were some carrots and snap peas also on the plate that added some texture to the puree.
One of our friends had the market fish. She pronounced it good but not exceptional. Another friend had roasted chicken. He liked it quite a lot. Another friend ordered the roasted pork sausage. He liked it, but I tasted it and didn’t think it was particularly flavorful. His sausage came with a potato salad and roasted cauliflower with a cider vinegar bacon dressing. I tasted that as well, and thought it was just a jumble of flavors that didn’t blend well together.
The last person just didn’t see anything on the list of entrées that she wanted. So she just ordered a side of roasted cauliflower. I didn’t get a taste of it. But my wife, who is a cauliflower connoisseur proclaimed it to be delicious.
We also ended up ordering five of the desserts. My favorites were the French macarons (it was Bastille Day, after all) and the blueberry galette. I thought both of them were simple, straightforward preparations, tasty and satisfying. We also had the buttermilk cornmeal cake with olive oil ice cream – nobody thought that was particularly good. My wife had a scoop of raspberry sorbet – good but ordinary. The last dessert was chocolate Bavarian cream – I didn’t take a taste of that since I’m not much of a chocolate fan.
The ambiance of the dining room was comfortable. Our server was efficient and helpful. Yet as we talked about our experience, none of us felt like we could recommend the restaurant to our friends. Maybe it just didn’t live up to the hype. Maybe our expectations were too high. Maybe we just aren’t the right audience for experimental Norwegian cuisine.
We’ve been to other restaurants that have taken chances on unusual flavor combinations and preparations. The most successful of them find a way to engage the diner and make the experience fun, so that even if a particular dish misses the mark, the diner has the feeling that they were part of a fun experiment.
At Bachelor Farmer, I felt like the attitude was: “Here’s what we serve. If you don’t like it, it’s your loss. Maybe you’re not cool enough to eat here.” In any case, I guess we aren’t cool enough because none of us plan to eat there again anytime soon.