Located on Commercial Street in Portland's Old Port District, The Farmer's Table offers diners a unique dining experience in an elegant, intimate and relaxed atmosphere. Offering two levels of indoor dining space, along with two outdoor patios for fantastic summertime al fresco dining, be sure to stop in and check out the menu if you're in the area.
The atmosphere at The Farmer's Table is subdued-chic, tastefully done with Earth toned walls and artifacts. The dining area is cozy in nature (8-10 tables, mostly for 2 people), and spacing is closer than one would normally expect in a restaurant (think NYC restaurant seating – tables are no more than 12” from each other). An intimate bar area consisting of 8 seats is the focal point upon entering the establishment, and is elegantly stocked. The menu at The Farmer's Table is thoughtfully isolated; you will not be presented with endless pages of options for your dining enjoyment; rather you'll find a carefully selected combination of ingredients to comprise each dish. Selections will vary with the season; ingredients are sourced as locally as possible and will be reflected on the menu. Prices are slightly higher than you would expect, however portion sizes are just right if you have a few appetizers. Entrees are typically paired with a perfectly enjoyable accompaniment, so there is no need to think “a la carte” when ordering from the menu (although one could splurge for an additional side to share with a dining companion). Vegetarian options are limited; do check the menu before making a reservation. Tip: Always make sure to ask if there are specials for the evening.
During a recent visit, my partner and I ordered the Polenta Fries to share. Served with a cheese fondue and what I can only recall as a sweet onion chutney, they were light & airy, and perfectly cooked to a wonderfully delicate consistency. Our appetizer of Lemon Egg Drop soup was invigorating. The soup embodied a wonderfully rich essence, yet light in consistency. The lemon added a refreshing zing towards the end, waking up the taste buds for the next course. Next to arrive was one of the specials of the evening: Grilled Swordfish over Polenta with wilted Chard. My partner finished the dish and commented on how the cut of Swordfish was akin to Filet Mignon and excellent, the polenta was not too dense and chard smartly chopped and cooked perfectly. I was able to enjoy the other special of the evening, an Earthy Homemade Ravioli stuffed with a local mushroom blend an a light Lobster sauce (also of which was completely polished off). Unfortunately, neither of us left room for dessert, so we weren't able to enjoy the homemade chocolate truffles, NY style cheesecake, lemon tart, or the made-to-order chocolate chip cookie with ice cream which sounded wonderful.
The Farmer's Table has the potential to be fantastically amazing, however a few chinks in the armor start to show through as you settle into your dining experience. For example, we overheard the table next to us (two women) ask if there was any beer selection like “Amstel Light” at the bar; the response from the waitress was a demeaning “The only thing even CLOSE to that is Bud Light.” The woman ordering grew sheepish and ordered the Bud Light anyway, as if dejected by life, embarrassed in front of her friend. The saddest part is the fact that the restaurant DOES indeed have a good selection of local beers on tap and the customer could probably have been able to try something new, but the waitress didn't take the time to invest on what would really give her guest a great experience. Overhearing the same waitress earlier while checking on her other tables, she would use a forced “And how are we right now?”... she was attentive, just didn't seem sincere – so, good, just not a pro. Our waiter, while nice and interested in what we were ordering, had a level of nervous energy that while meaning well, was not exactly relaxing. While habitually pushing back his long hair, we were told we need to order everything all at once as they were “about to get busy”, or our “ticket” would go to the back of the line in the kitchen and we would have to wait longer. Mind you, there were still 5 empty tables in the dining area and the upcoming reservations had not arrived at that point. Having worked at a restaurant in the past, I understood the logistics behind the comment, but feel it was unnecessary to explain to us. Top it off with dropping our check and never coming back to the table, we knew we were on our own at that point (admittedly, it was busy at the time).
As the final nail in the coffin for the evening, the hostess continually drank from her brightly colored sports water bottle (as opposed to a clean water glass) and was mildly gracious. While this may be insignificant to many, I found it a bit off putting for an establishment that charges upwards of $28 for main courses and $12 for martinis. Restrooms have the potential to be warm and inviting, but were simple and utilitarian...no frills.
While the food approaches superb, the servers and host don't match up. There is a lack of style to how they handle themselves and how they are dressed. This is too bad, because the chef is clearly talented and if they can get someone who can run a first class dining room, as well as just a few more wait staff, he has a shot at being one of the best restaurants in town. All of this said, by the time we left, the place was packed, so hopefully they are doing well.
The prices are a bit high, but not too much so - and you do have to compensate for the wonderful bistro feel and intimate number of tables in a one of a kind semicircular building overlooking the Portland waterfront – you have to pay for this location – add in the fact the cuisine is built from local ingredients.
Overall, I would go back to The Farmer's Table. I want desperately to give 5 Stars, as I can tell the chef and owner is truly giving his all to this establishment. It's just missing that last piece of cohesiveness which would bring everything together as an upper scale fine-dining experience with a relaxed atmosphere. I do so hope that happens, as I would truly love to come back with a group of friends for a Sunday brunch and get a chance to enjoy the fantastic outdoor decks overlooking the Portland Waterfront.
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