“Is that place any good?” a man asked as some friends and I descended the stairs from RedFarm.
“It’s not bad,” one of my companions replied. “Basically, it’s Chinese for people with money who are scared to go to Chinatown.” I nodded in agreement.
Indeed, you won’t find chicken feet at this new dim sum and Cantonese-style eatery, located on the second floor of a West Village townhouse. Instead, like so many chefs these days, Joe Ng and Far Eastern food guru Ed Schoenfeld are championing a “greenmarket sensibility.” However, save for the odd brussels sprout or asparagus spear tucked into an entrée, this doesn’t really come through in the food. The decor, though, is certainly imbued with rustic charm. Potted plants and candles hang from poles above the two long (and cramped) communal tables. You’ll find whitewashed brick walls, old crates stacked on lofted shelves, and wood beams crossing the ceiling.
The dearth of Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood helps explain the spot’s instant buzz—expect to wait at least half an hour for a table, longer on weekends. One bonus: The hostesses will text you when seats open, meaning you can drink a pint at nearby Bayard’s Ale House instead of milling around in the cold.
And what better way to work up an appetite for the spicy crispy beef ($12)? You’d be silly not to dig into an order as soon as you sit down. Crispy is an understatement: The sweet, lemongrassy, sesame-studded meat shatters between your teeth. Seriously, this could be sold in the supermarket candy aisle. The expertly shucked Kumamoto oysters dotted with Yuzu ice and dimpled with caviar ($3.50 apiece) also make for a sumptuous start. They’re more magnate munchies than farm fare, but taste always trumps semantics.
Then hit up the pork and crab soup dumplings—comforting, though pricey at $10 for four, since they cost half that for twice as many south of Canal. Same goes for the har gow–like Pac-Man shrimp dumplings ($12). But these guys (like the zany, flower-resembling mushroom spring rolls, $8) will elicit grins: Four little pouches fashioned from colored doughs squat on a plate while a moon of tempura sweet potato lords above, prepared to devour them like in the arcade game. Wrong, Mom: You can play with your food.
With double the number of starters as mains, the menu is designed for nibbling. Be wary of certain dishes, like the bizarre smoked salmon bruschetta ($8), a gloopy mess mounded high atop slices of fried eggplant. Ditto the kung pao chicken and scallion dumplings ($12), which get lost in a cloying sauce. Smoked cucumbers ($6) and Katz’s pastrami egg roll ($6), while alluring in name, don’t deliver on execution.
Entrées, meanwhile, recall fancified versions of sweet-and-salty takeout staples. The diced lamb with Chinese broccoli and sliced asparagus ($24) is one of the best bets. The cubes of meat are juicy and tender, and the greens possess the right amount of crispness. Sautéed black cod with yellow leeks ($29) is bolstered with those promised veggies. They’re both yummier than letdowns like the mild shrimp and cashew nuts, slicked in velvety white sauce ($19), three chili chicken ($18), and the oily, thick rice noodles with shredded duck and pickled mustard greens ($16).
While RedFarm offers a far nicer selection of wine and cocktails (and better service) than the average Chinatown joint, one thing it lacks in comparison: fortune cookies. Not that I particularly adore them. But who doesn’t want to end their Chinese dinner knowing they’re soon going to be prosperous (in bed)?
For more restaurant coverage, check out Fork in the Road at voicefoodblog.com.